Politicians and Twitter

I will tell any politician who asks me what my opinion is of Twitter for political engagement, that as a viable medium to influence voters it is tits.

Mostly you are followed by sycophants, or stalkers. Almost never by swinging voters seeking “engagement”. It is only really good for broadcasting or sledging.

If a paid consultant starts talking to you about “engagement via social media” as being relevant, stop paying them, and back slowly out of the room.

Most people at first believed that the new social media, in all its various manifestations, would be a very good thing for political debate. They thought it would make public life more open and democratic.

There is some evidence that this is the case. However, there is a great deal of evidence that the reverse is also true. Take the example of Twitter. Certainly it is a way of getting information into the public domain very quickly. But there is no room at all, within the constraints of just 140 characters, to make complex or thoughtful arguments.

Twitter, therefore, reduces conversation to what is, in effect, a series of newspaper headlines. As a result, many users enter a kind of competition to make the most striking or outlandish comments, in order to grab the attention of their audience – one reason why poor Sally Bercow came a cropper. This, in turn, creates a nightmarish political discourse that favours the short-term over the long-term, the sensational over the mundane, the false over the true, and the strident over the thought-provoking. 

Yep…it becomes a sledge-fest and unless you are very good at sledging it is a complete waste of time…it just isn’t relevant to the vast majority of voters and in a small country like New Zealand is mostly beltway tragics or news media being wankers.

Twitter requires zero powers of concentration, and offers the promise of instant mental stimulus. It is, then, the ideal means of communication for modern Britain. Twitter feeds the worship of celebrity. Its recipients are left starved of comprehension, but well up with the gossip and ahead of the news. This is a state of affairs that fits in perfectly with the vacuous, purposeless populism that has been the preferred method of communication between political leaders and the voters ever since Tony Blair emerged as Opposition leader.

For people like me Twitter is a god-send…it lets us know all the stupid and banal crap politicians think are relevant to us…if you need proof take a look at Clare Curran’s twitter stream.

Uhmmm, that’s your job Clare.

Seriously? We pay you to ask for cat pictures?

I’ll be it has a great big capital ‘D’ on it.

Twitter is gay…only the deluded think they are genuinely engaging.


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  • Pete George

    I disagree. Twitter can be used by politicians to effectively engage – albeit on a limited level. I think some do it well.

    It’s just that some use it poorly, like Curran and obviously Dunne who did engage but took it far too far in some circumstances. And Russel Norman is finding it counterproductive, but that’s because he’s spinning crap.

    • Ronnie Chow

      It doesn’t begin with twit for nothing , Pete . Seriously , who’s got the time ?

    • Agent BallSack

      twitter is for people who think themselves interesting enough that other people should find them interesting too. Which is why so many celebs engage. Notice any news about so called celebrities generally mentions a tweet they made.

  • unsol

    “Twitter is gay…only the deluded think they are genuinely engaging”

    Generally people who share that view don’t even have a twitter account….

    Twitter is for twits. People who prefer to speak only via 140 characters are lazy if not dumb.

    MPs & social media – disastrous relationship. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum they sit they end up looking pathetic.

  • Rat

    Twitter is gay…allegedly

  • Agent BallSack

    I have never seen the purpose in it, myself. Pretty sure its called twitter because its exactly like the inane chattering of a flock of sparrows. Any of the good stuff becomes memes anyway.

    • BJ

      Flitting, flippant, frivolous and chirpy chirpy cheep cheep background noise

  • blairmulholland

    Nothing wrong with engaging with synchophants – how else do you get money and volunteers? Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are very good at using Twitter – it lets us know what they are up to on a day to day basis. Of course it helps that they are hard working politicians who leave the sad sacks we see in NZ for dead, so they actually have important stuff to tweet about. And Americans are much more politically partisan and involved than NZers, so it works for them.