I am a huge fan of social media. I love how it allows candidates, MPs and parties to talk directly to voters. I love how it allows people, who would never otherwise meet, to interact with each other and to learn from each other. But it has its limitations. It is very much a self selecting environment. It is incredibly easy to end up with a timeline that is nothing but an echo chamber.
For a number of people on the left, and even some parties on the left. I have a feel this is what has happened. They have seen all the talk about how it is time to change the government. About how the media is biased. How about dirty politics will resonate with the electorate. As well as about many other issues. But they forget that social media in general, and Twitter in particular, are not accurate representations of the rest of the electorate. I blogged earlier about how when dirty politics was being talked about on Twitter, it wasn’t really connecting with the electorate. The articles that were being read on TVNZ, Herald and Stuff were not the ones about dirty politics. They were about the every day things that mattered to, or interested, average voters.
After I blogged the other day about the way the Internet Party had covered the Moment of Truth Event I got a tweet from Callum Valentine, Social Media Manager, and Wellington Central candidate, for the Internet Party. He was not happy that I had left out coverage of the fact that a number of hashtags and words associated with the Moment of Truth had ended up trending.
Then a few days later he also sent me a link to a time based graphic of where and when the tweets were coming from:
Then there were the graphs being circulated showing how the #MoT hashtag was the biggest of the election cycle:
But those 16,000 odd tweets only came from around 6300 accounts. With at least 3 accounts sending more than 110 tweets to the hashtag. So yes there were people talking about it, yes the hashtag was big, but it was still a very small number of people talking about it. Add in the fact that you had people like Giovanni Tiso, who is well known as leaning left, were talking negatively on the hashtag about what was happening at the #MoT. So just because people are talking about something on Twitter doesn’t mean that a) people outside of Twitter are talking about it. b) that they are talking about it in a positive way.
If social media is going to be used effectively, and is going to help parties and campaigners to make progress in advancing their own agendas/movements/programs/policies/whathave you. They need to make sure that they understand how to assess if their Twitter feed, or the hashtag they are looking at, is representative of the wider population, and make sure that they don’t fall into an echo chamber again. This doesn’t just apply to parties, candidates and MPs, it applies to people who consider themselves activists, or foot soldiers for the cause they believe in. There is no point in talking solely to people who believe what you do. To win an election, to advance policy positions, to make a difference, be it inside or outside Parliament, you need to convince people who don’t agree with you to change their mind. This isn’t going to happen if people on the left continue to take approaches to social media such as:
Or who abuse those who disagree with them:
If the left wish to hold power again they need to take their base with them. They can only do this by talking to them, as opposed to either ignoring them, or talking down to them. As Gina points out:
Social media can play a role in helping to advance policy positions and agendas. But it can only be useful if the people and parties using it understand that it is not a accurate representation of the real world. Just because something is being talked about on social media doesn’t mean it will resonate with the wider population. Don’t discount social media, just keep this in mind.
One final bit of advice for all sides. If you want to change peoples views, engage in reasoned debate. Don’t attack/abuse/demonise the other side.