The last few days have been rather eventful for Judith Collins and the National Government. I have already blogged about the social media aspects. In that blog I mentioned my fear that this would be used by the spin doctors on the 9th floor as a way to crack down on National MPs use of social media. It looks like that fear is coming true. The initial indication was that she would be staying off Twitter while she was one her R&R break.
However, Stuff are now carrying a story that indicates it might be a longer term thing:
Embattled justice minister Judith Collins is abandoning Twitter, and Prime Minister John Key says he backs her decision because it’s full of “trolls and bottom-feeders”.
John Key then went on to say:
“My view is there’s a lot of trolls and bottom-feeders on that and in the end they get in people’s head. It’s an anonymous situation, it’s a form of cyber bullying, I don’t engage in that.”
The extent of his involvement in Twitter was to tweet pictures of what he had been up to, but he did not follow twitter feeds “for a very good reason”.
“Frankly I’d advise other politicians to follow the same advice I follow,” Key said.
TV3 have another quote:
One of the biggest factors in leading to Ms Collins’ stress levels is that she’d been tweeting back to those who sent her messages, he says.
My reading of it all is that John Key has a predetermined position on the use of social media, he sees it as a broadcast media and not about engaging. This is played out by his social media presence, with a lack of engagement. Would the PM apply the same rules to an MP in any other public situation? Would he think it was acceptable for an MP to get stopped by the media pack on the way to the house, say their thing then just walk off every day, without replying to questions? Would the same apply at a meet the candidates meeting? Or at a public event? Of course not. Twitter is the same as those, sure it goes 24 hours a day, but MPs can pick and choose what they reply to.
What makes these comments even more ironic is that there will be some out there who consider Judith to be a bit of a troll. We can all remember her tweet about Metiria Turei’s jacket. There was also this tweet sent last week:
So it is a bit rich for the PM to accuse Twitter users of being trolls, when the person he is defending is not exactly innocent of the accusation either. However, he does have a point when it comes to the anonymous aspect of it. There are plenty of accounts out there that use pseudonym’s to hide behind. However there are also plenty of people who will use their own names. However, it is fair to say that those accounts should be taken less seriously.
The comments by the PM and the fact that Judith is withdrawing from Twitter have sparked some interesting comments:
La-mia has a point, there has been an on going tone of blame shifting. If we look solely at the “bottom feeders” and “trolls” element, sure every MP will get a few of them, but at the same time, the tone of tweets that they send will influence the tone of Tweets that they get back. Judith could be a bit sarcastic and harsh on Twitter. Which may work in person, but can fail spectacularly on Twitter.
Holly Walker from the Greens has added her bit to the conversation. Now I agree with Holly. In the past I have talked about how it is important with Twitter to not allow your feed to become an echo chamber of people who solely agree with you, in some ways cutting yourself off from Twitter, as an MP, is just as bad, if you worse. Judith was following over 1500 people, she was followed by over 5000, I suspect she was getting tweets from lots of people who were not following her. This is a great insight into what a section of the community is thinking. Sure it isn’t the be all and end all, but it is another tool.
Twitter is also a great way for people to directly connect with MPs and know that they are going to see it. So many times when you email an MP, it isn’t the MP that sees it, it is their staffer. Twitter helps to keep MPs in touch directly with what a section of people are saying and doing.
However, the wider issue that I fear is that National MPs will be told to cut back on their social media use. We have MPs like Tau Henare, Scott Simpson, Simon O’Connor and Mark Mitchell all using Twitter well. The last three are just starting to make an impression. It will be a great loss to the electorate, and potentially to the party, if these MPs, and others, are pulled back from the their engagement.
An over all pulling back from social media could also be read as an unwillingness to engage and listen to what voters have to say. Changes in usage patterns can tell us as much about events and views as the actual content of tweets.