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February 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm / by

Good evening everyone!

Did anyone watch Tower Block of Commons last night? It made me cringe…

Anyway, I wanted to draw your attention to an article I wrote. It’s been published by Progress here.

And if you’re not in the mood to click on any other links, here’s the article:

I don’t tweet. Deal with it.

Apparently people can’t deal with it. It doesn’t matter that I have five email accounts, write a blog, text faster than you speak, obsessively Facebook (or Stalkbook.)…no. Just not good enough these days. Why this obsession with Twitter? Is it because the next election will be the first one in the UK where new media is likely to play a large part?

It’s been said before but I’ll say it again – e-campaigning is in no way an alternative to the original door-to-door canvassing. You simply can’t replace mailshots with emails and Facebook messages, or speeches with blogs and Youtube videos.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good idea to use Facebook but politicians need to ensure that they do it the right way.

Last year when the expenses scandal erupted, reporters utilised Facebook accounts to expose politicians. This article practically bases its argument on Baroness Uddin’s line about ‘east end of London’ on her Facebook profile. Perhaps a technology-savvy politician would have been more aware of how statements can get taken out of context. Similarly an MP’s wife complained about a local restaurant in her husband’s constituency on her Facebook status. It was on the local paper’s website within minutes.

The fact is that these attempts to use technology won’t work unless you invest a little bit of time to explore them. You don’t need a PhD in Twitter but you need to know that if you say anything controversial in your status updates, it will get out to a wider audience very quickly. Merely using new technology won’t help you connect with the youth; you also need to understand it.

Then there’s the issue of “live” website and “static”. I’ve come across countless constituency websites with blogs or ‘the latest news’ on them. Except the ‘latest news’ is actually six months old. The enthusiastic person who took up the initiative obviously got bored (like when I joined my gym… seemed like a good idea at the time) If you don’t have time to update it, have a website with generic information that doesn’t age. Otherwise you look sloppy (or physically unfit in my case)

The moral of the story? If you want to make yourself available, ensure that you carry it through.

I do want to see politicians making better use of this technology. Social networking means better scrutiny of politics and engagement of younger people to a greater effect. It also holds the potential for a genuine mass democracy.

We’ve all seen those annoying Facebook groups ‘If this group gets 1,000,000 members I’ll call my unborn child Spider Pig…’, but these people may be on to something. We have the tools now to mobilise people around causes en masse. This type of mass democracy could provide a refreshing change from our ‘elected dictatorship’ and answer some of the criticisms of over-centralisation of power.

Can I give you a nerdy example? In the US, the Pickens Plan, a blueprint to reduce America’s foreign oil dependence, has recruited 1.5 million online supporters, built a 200,000 person strong social network and produced over 1.1 million emails to Congress and the administration. ( if you’re really interested)

Ultimately there is massive potential for politicians to do their job better by using social media. MPs just need to use a range of methods. Youtube and Facebook is successful in engaging the young, but old fashioned techniques are still relevant. My mother prefers writing to Glenda Jackson via snail mail but my teenage sister will email her MP because she’s more comfortable doing so.

Anyway I am off to join Twitter before I lose all my street cred. However, I’m still going door-knocking in my local ward this weekend. Saturday at 2pm in Regent’s Park if anyone wants to help me out…