Your eyes widen at the horrors on your screen. You break out into a cold sweat as a mixture of nausea and terror spreads from your gut to your outermost extremities, making you feel more alive and yet more dead than you’ve ever felt in your whole life. This is the feeling of discovering that a parent of yours has adopted social media. Over the coming days, weeks and months, you are fully aware that you’re certain to discover some dreadful faux pas of over sharing, or naive misuse.
Now picture that feeling spreading across the country, creating the atmosphere of doom that grips the nation when our politicians take up Twitter. Statesmen and their staff post a mix of political commentary and snippets of their personal lives in a bid to seem more approachable, all the more important in an era of personality politics. It also allows them to create a direct line to the public, circumventing the media when wanting to get a statement out, while simultaneously giving journalists worthy fodder for news pieces.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have genuinely reached the point where the most constructive use of social media in the political world comes from the (sadly) fictional President Bartlett from The West Wing. Creating such a transparent link between (real) politicians and the public can create some issues. Before one’s tweets are considered, there is a minefield surrounding who to follow on Twitter. Some consider it beneficial to follow everyone that follows them, which can lead to some strange quirks such as Barack Obama following yours truly. On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s Office realised the problem with this approach, when it was discovered that their official account follows a high-end escort agency. The Prime Minister was also caught ‘favouriting’ a tweet that asked him to ‘please call off WilliamHague’ considerately asking ‘hasn’t Kenya suffered enough today?’. Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister Jack Dromey faced a similar issue when he was found to have ‘favourited’ two links to gay porn websites.
Such issues can often be caused by a bored staffer seeking to create mischief, or perhaps the side-effects of a hectic Westminster life. Where the unmediated relationship created by Twitter becomes problematic is when politicians begin to say and do regrettable things. This can often be something quite innocent, such as Ed Balls tweeting his own name, but can often veer towards the obscene as in the case of Anthony Weiner, who tweeted a link to a ‘sexually suggestive picture’ of himself (cue jokes about both Balls & Weiner). It may also be used aggressively, as in the case of local Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, who called Third Year Economics & Politics student Jonathan Pryor a ‘little shit’.
While politicians from Britain and around the world have been given the opportunity to create an open dialogue with their electorates, their social media use seems to be resemble a peculiar cocktail of gaffs and self-aggrandizement. Perhaps it’s the lack of a Malcolm Tucker figure to approve each tweet, but it seems that the only reason to follow a politician is in the vain hope that they’ll make a fool of themselves. I don’t doubt that the politicians of tomorrow will be well-versed in using social media effectively, but while we’re stuck with the politicians of today, let’s leave them in the same box as Directioners and Beliebers marked ‘definitely don’t follow’.