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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Twitter - a sceptic writes

John Rentoul has an interesting article on Twitter in today's Independent on Sunday in which he comes to the same conclusion as a lot of other people - Twitter and other social networking sites are just a tool that enable you to communicate with different audiences. Nevertheless, he says so in a much more entertaining manner:

Mostly, the new media are more "democratic" than the traditional media, because they are so much more open – with not just hundreds of TV channels but millions of YouTube users. Anyone can start a blog. But media traffic between politicians and the rest of us is still bound to be mostly one-way. Interactive nonsense (press the red button now) is almost always a gimmick. The idea of instant, interactive democracy will always come up against the problem that there are few representatives and many represented. If enough people feel strongly about something, they have always had ways of making their views known to politicians. In the old days they would riot, or break into newspaper offices and throw printing presses out of windows, or chain themselves to railings, or throw themselves under horses. Or, more sedately, sign petitions. Computers and mobile phones give people more and different ways of receiving news, and more and different ways of protesting about news that they don't like. But the basic relationship is the same.

However he does have an answer to those who believe that politicians should be making better use of their time:

The obvious objection, if you don't find it clever or witty, is that the minister must surely have better things to do with his time. But Tom Harris, the Labour MP who was sacked as a junior transport minister by Brown, once mounted a spirited defence of his ability to carry out his ministerial duties and to write about Doctor Who on his blog at the same time. He was right. It is good for politicians to have interests in life beyond politics. I thought better of him for it, just as I warmed to Tom Watson, despite his leading role in Tony Blair's downfall, when he wrote about music, books and the internet. But my better opinion is simply a by-product of their personality coming through a medium that suits them.

Just as in the old days politicians might talk on the traditional media, or at public meetings, or over a cup of tea, about a cultural life including politics, now they can do part of that on the internet. But that should not be confused with some magical new way of communicating with the voters. It's just chat. Or, as we must learn to call it, Twittering.

Ultimately the use of social media by politicians is a matter of choice. There is no point doing it if you do not believe in it or are not going to make the most of it. As with so many other things in politics people can tell if you are just going through the motions.
True. There isn't much point having a "Twitter Policy", making it required. It's another tool, like the phone, the fax, the TV appearance, the radio interview.

Not sure about opening up democracy in itself, but what it DOES do is make politicans... available. If a politician just blogs about Dr Who or Tweets about their cat, then.. fine! They're just like us! (the voters). Too long have politicians been hidden behind secretary and official office.

Not suggesting politicians should be tweeting 24/7, any more than they should be on the phone 24/7. That would be a sign that they weren't doing their job properly. But, if politicians are getting into discussions with their constituents and the wider community, about cats, Dr.Who, business, the election, whatever, that is a fundamentally different and more open process, something we haven't seen before.
personally i can see no problem with our politicians using social networking sites......in many wys it makes communicatons and contact between ourselves and politicians like peter a lot quicker and a lot easier!

However one worrying aspect of the revolution in online communication that is taking place in our society right now is that it inevitably excludes the many millions of people in the uk who simply cannot afford to pay for a internet connection or who are not online for other good reasons!

We must find a way of ensuring these people are not left behind amid all this chatter and networking on facebook et al.

Leigh Richards
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