Yesterday I blogged about the Speakers announcement that the use of Twitter was going to be referred to the Privileges Committee. There are a couple of aspects to this that will be interesting. Firstly there is the issue of Parliamentary Privilege. The Speaker made reference to this when he said “Tweets may be actionable in the courts.” Now I don’t think anyone I know would ever have considered a tweet to fall under Parliamentary Privilege. The solution to the perceived issue isn’t to try and define what isn’t covered by Parliamentary Privilege, but to very accurately define what IS covered by it.
The Speaker also made reference to the issue of members finding themselves being held in contempt of Parliament for reporting proceedings in a false or misleading way, along with commenting on the conduct of the house or a member. This is the issue that I think the speaker is most worried about. I am not sure how they can deal with the second issue, I suspect there would need to be a system with someone watching a live feed of the MPs tweets, and alerting the Speaker to any tweets that are questionable. I don’t see how that can really be practical. However, the first issue I don’t think is even an issue. We all know that MPs see what happens in Parliament through their own party political lenses. What one side deems to be accurate, the other side will deem to be misleading or false. But, unlike other media, Twitters inherent structure plays a role in minimising this as an issue. Unlike in the House, the other side can object and point out where they think the MP concerned is wrong.
Last week when this first came up I posted with some suggestions, but since that time I have changed my mind, the cost, complexity and restriction on debate that would be caused by applying the same rules to Twitter as to the house would not be worth the gain. Though this discussion should be used as a jump off point to look at how we can lift the quality of the debate. Twitter is a great insight in how our MPs think and act, sometimes we see good things, that we can all aim to emulate, Jacinda giving people a lift back to Auckland over easter. But it also shows us the darker side of some of our MPs.
There is a place for broad rules about the use of Twitter, and other social media, during sitting periods of the House. However I don’t see how it is going to be possible to apply as many nuanced rules as there is in the House to the use of Twitter. Either you try and everyone stops using it, cause they don’t want to get into trouble, or they just try and break the rules to try and cause disruption.
Let us all try and use social media to lift the quality of the debate, try and make this an election campaign that we can be proud of.