Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#Twinge - Twitter's potential for politics

At Labour's Conference last night there was an interesting debate on the use of Twitter, interesting because it showed in many ways the full range of attitudes to the use of the Internet and social media within Westminster. The debate was blogged live on Channel 4 news website and via Twitter (appropriately). Of the bits they showed, Tom Watson came over as the advocate. Not surprising really, given his history as a pioneer of new media and blogging in particular. For him though, social media is a way of connecting with like-minded people and given them opportunities to discuss issues of importance. For him, social media enhances democracy; possibly Kerry McCarthy (Labour Twitter Tsar) would agree. Caroline Flint rather sat in the middle on this. She was concerned about the time this kind of interactivity could take but also made what is actually a very good point that social media cannot be used to substitute other forms of interaction. But she also offered the typical political line: "at least you can get your version of the truth out there". So for her it has some uses but possibly more for propaganda and persuasion than connectivity or interactivity. Ed Balls made an interesting point about proving authenticity, and the fact that when you are a Minister people are sceptical that it is really you sending the tweets; absolutely true. He also commented on the fact it is hard to be interesting all the time, yes accept that too. But his comments also showed that his use lacked any real strategy and he was being taken somewhere through the use of social media. So he is led by the bandwagon perhaps, but is perhaps being drawn to communicate in different ways because of that. If anyone wants to seek hope from this it is perhaps in the approach of Tom Watson, the man who wants to bring people closer to politics. However, he may not be alone. Users like Ed Balls may become drawn towards a more inclusive style due to the nature of the communication and the use by one section of the Twitter community. So it may have potential for democracy after all, though still some like to announce what they had for breakfast - fancy boiled eggs now!

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