Twitter: Communication tool or pointless vanity?
Wednesday October 21, 6.30pm
Portcullis House, Westminster.
Last night Iain Dale, Kerry McCarthy MP, Jo Swinson MP and Andrew Walker, joined the Hansard Society in a brilliantly entertaining debate on Twitter: Communication Tool or Pointless Vanity? The panel addressed a packed room in Portcullis House including both Twitterers and Non-Twitterers!
Kerry McCarthy MP was up first, and made it clear that although Twitter will not win the next election it is a valuable tool. Twitter allows people to engage in a conversation with their MP, one that would not normally be possible and that can be about both serious and ‘frivolous' issues. Although this tool will not win an election on its own Ms. McCarthy did note that Twitter can be good for mobilising campaigns and allowing ‘organic growth'.
There was indeed a consensus on this point, Twitter alone is not enough, but used as part of the wider campaign process can be incredibly useful. Jo Swinson MP noted the relevance of Twitter particularly in the current political climate, breaking down barriers between politicians and the public, giving MPs a ‘human face' and restoring trust. Andrew Walker of Tweetminster made a similar point that technology can reduce cynicism....MPs do eat lunch and occasionally watch the X Factor! He went on to note that when seen as part of the wider media landscape Twitter can extend the reach of the traditional press.
However it is important to understand the limitations of Twitter, such as authenticity and time. Iain Dale noted that it is crucial to ‘keep it real' as it is plain to see when someone else is doing your ‘tweeting' for you. Dale was keen to issue a reality check, particularly in relation to Twitter's use in the upcoming election campaign; there is the very real risk of it causing problems and embarrassment for individual candidates. Andrew Walker agreed on this point but did note that although Twitter would not replace traditional canvassing it could mobilise people to get out and canvass on candidates' behalf and keep the agenda ‘agile'.
Perhaps the most notable limitation of Twitter is that not everyone knows what it is. Jo Swinson made an important point highlighting the large number of people not yet on the internet, let alone on Twitter. Perhaps the best question of the night came from a gentleman not yet enlightened to the world of Twitter asking ‘Could someone please tell me what Twitter actually is?!'. This certainly made our panel stop and think.
There was much talk of Parliament 2010 and the new intake of ‘techno-savvy' MPs. Iain Dale predicted that this new technology will enable MPs to question parliamentary authorities and ‘force change'. Andrew Walker also foresaw a great shift in the way politicians will be perceived, by forcing such change they will be seen as ‘radical' and ‘cool'. Watch this space!
To read our Digital Paper on Twitter: Communication tool or Pointless vanity? click here
Listen to the Audio: Kerry McCarthy MP & Jo Swinson MP Andrew Walker & Iain Dale Q&A