Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Northern Ireland's Twittering Political Classes

The Northern Ireland Foundation's 'Our Future Together' Ning page has started compiling an interesting list of the north's politicians and parties who tweet. Of course it takes seconds to set up a Twitter account- it's the actual active use of the medium which matters and I suppose it remains to be seen if the profiles are properly maintained.

Nonetheless, it's good to see that some politicians are starting to look at innovative ways of communicating with people. Used properly, the instant nature of Twitter offers a fresh and personalised glimpse at the daily activity of our elected representatives.

Anything which enhances communication between the elected and the electors is good for democracy. I think where Twitter could succeed above other social networking platforms in this instance lies in the fact that it is so easy to update and maintain- a completely stripped-back service which relies essentially on 140-character messaging is about as simple as it gets. It doesn't even require a web connection to update.

Of course, there is a question over how 'two-way' the use of Twitter by politicians is. It's all very well regurgitating press releases, but Twitter offers the opportunity for a more conversational approach. I'm not sure how many tweeting politicians will choose to actively engage with their followers. Indeed, as The Economist article mentioned in the Ning post reports:

Claire McCaskill, a Democratic senator from Missouri, offers a good mix of thoughts on policy, political titbits, and personal asides. “Compromise had to happen or we would NOT have 60 votes. Period,” she tweeted during negotiations over the stimulus bill. Earlier she described some hungry politicians: “Hysterical. Swarming Senators around candy drawer in back of Chamber.”

Mrs McCaskill comes across like a friendly and candid citizen legislator. But whereas more than 4,000 people “follow” her, she follows only one person herself.
However, even a one-way insight into the activity of a politician is better than no communication at all.

It'll be interesting to check back in six months' time to see how many of the profiles listed are still operational.

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