Posted by Tom Bridge
Over the weekend Jessica Wright wrote an article which appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald, saying that the Liberal Party had advised candidates not to post on social media and encouraged backbench MP’s to delete their social media accounts. The reported move comes ahead of the 2013 election and is said to have been made in order to, as one MP was quoted saying, “limit the stuff-ups and scandals.”
The reported decision from the head office of the federal Liberal Party is an interesting one and could, in itself, create more harm than it aims to prevent.
The move has already lead to a hashtag on social media site Twitter, #ThingsTooDangerousForTheLNP, with users posting examples of things which the Liberal Party might find to be either political trouble or politically dangerous.
Of course the first thing which springs to mind is the issue of trust. The party of the individual appears not to trust their own candidates to post sensible tweets and links.
Of course there has been examples of MP’s tweeting offensive remarks and that at all costs should be avoided. But the point is that candidates and backbenchers should be free to preach to the Twitterati about both their individual campaigns and the broader campaign of the Liberal Party. There may be slip-ups, but the presumption should be against that happening.
Deciding to urge prospective MP’s to close their social media accounts might also be in a bid to prevent previous poorly judged or offensive comments from being unearthed by journalists and their opponent’s party officials.
This is a worry and should be far more of a concern to party headquarters than the less likely event of someone erring in the six to eleven months before the 2013 election. There has been a number of examples of harmful remarks being unearthed by the media, particularly during state election campaigns and there is the potential for this to happen.
But again the likelihood of this is low, though somewhat understandably an issue. But new “official” candidate accounts should be the response to this eventuality, rather than discouraging or banning taking to Facebook and Twitter to post status updates, information and tweets.
Aside from the obvious trust issues and considerations, which in the scheme of things are a minor issue, there are other factors which need to be considered around political engagement.
Both Facebook and Twitter, when used correctly, as they overwhelmingly are by political organisations and members, can be used to get information out fast and to a wide audience.
The positive potential of social media needs to be harnessed by all political parties in the age of social media.
It is true in the case of the Liberal Party that they would be hard-pressed finding fans on Twitter.
Twitter is overwhelmingly the domain of people left-of-centre on the political spectrum. What is also true of Twitter is that the politically engaged on the service generally identify with one party or another. There are very few ‘undecided’ voters on Twitter, so the potential to win votes on this platform is low.
However, Twitter’s importance as a fast and effective information source should render the relatively low possibility of attracting voters a secondary concern.
Voters will share news and policies and while this in itself will change few votes. However, the possibility of influencing the vote’s of others through Twitter users communicating with friends about their interactions with the political class is not something which should be ignored by the Liberal Party.
Voters too want to feel like they are somewhat engaged in the political process. Twitter offers this potential more than any other platform through the ability to link-up with MP’s and candidates. While this will not sway many votes, engagement is incredibly important in both the short and long-term and may make some difference to the outcomes in marginal seats.
Facebook on the other hand is an entirely different proposition. All manner of people are on Facebook and that includes a significant cohort of voters who are up for grabs. So it follows that political party’s and their candidates should all harness this significant mode of communication for sending out information and policies which are of a local and national concern.
Again, Facebook as a pure information source, should also be positively harnessed by local MP’s and party candidates.
So of course, the two main social media platforms should be taken to with varying degrees of vigour. But they should be freely utilised.
A social media ban is foolish. Suggesting too, that candidates should not embrace the potential power of viral social media is equally silly, even for its potential pitfalls.