Northern Ireland politics: the new electric thingy age

Bob Balls highlights what i believe is just the start of the 'new electric thingy age' for NI politics.

South Belfast Conservative candidate for the General Election, Peter McCann, has put together a facebook group called ‘Peter McCann for Parliament’. And while he seems to be more organised than most, he is not alone in using social media.

One thing though is how our politicians and budding politicians actually use social media.

Peter, like many, is using Facebook to promote themselves to the general public. He has both a private personal profile and the 'open to the public' campaign page.

Both can be used in conjunction to fully engage the public in a conversation.

I would like to pint out though that sometimes there is no point in being a politician on Facebook and just using a personal page. Another issue is the use of the suffix of an elected representative as a username, as during election time politicians are not allowed to use those suffixes (such as MP or MLA).

Some MPs have actively used Facebook to engage with the public, such as Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP for Northavon, who held a “drop in surgery” on Facebook.

He advertised the time in advance, to his 3,867 Facebook friends: “Steve will be online on Facebook Chat tomorrow (Thursday) between 11 and 11.30am. Log on and chat if you want to raise anything with me.” Around 200 of his friends – a mixture of constituents, party members and others – were online for the chat session.

In addition, using a political page also allows a politician to send out updates, including direct messages, to their followers. Political pages can be linked up to other platforms, such as Twitter, to cross post.

This is not an electoral 'panacea', but it does help.

There is also Twitter to consider. I have had a few good interactions with elected representatives through this wondrous little platform. During the Irisgate scandal, Twitter was awash with political hacks letting tit bits filter out. The main culprit for this was @Eamonnmalie. He is still pumping out teasers regarding the ongoing Policing and Justice negotiations.

There are lots of tools at a politicians disposal, even blogs (such as blogger), for them to take the social media bull by the horns. In the recent debate on compulsory voting it was noted by many of the contributors to the debate that there is a serious issue with lack of political engagement. Well, politicians could begin to engage more through the digital media.

We have Web 2.0, which is all about conversations. Politics needs to catch up.

Northern Ireland politicians need to embrace the new electric thingy age



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