At the recently concluded Commonwealth Parliamentary Association strengthening seminar held on May 1 and 2, I was honoured to give a presentation regarding the use of social media by parliamentarians.
The title of that particular session was “Parliament and Social Media: Is it a menace or benefit for Democracy and Parliament”.
Are vehicles good or bad?
Very good when you must take your children to school or take your mom to church. But very bad if you have had ten rum swizzles and strike a police car. The point is how you use it.
I notice that not many Bermuda parliamentarians use social media to speak on domestic and international politics or other issues. Out of 47 MPs and senators, I suspect fewer than half have a consistent presence on Facebook.
As elected officials, there are both good and bad uses of social media.
Some prime examples of bad use of social media:
Arguing with citizens online, no matter how wrong you think they are or how right you think you are, is a no-win situation. As humans, often in the heat of emotions, we want to prove our point, no matter the cost.
In this age of screenshots and the ability to share images with hundreds in a heartbeat, anyone on social media must be conscious of what they type.
The more strategic option would be to simply find out the facts and then post them on a separate thread. By doing so, it does not come across as arguing back and forth online.
Yet another no-no for elected officials is to post half a story or falsehoods that can be easily proven untrue.
Politicians do not have parliamentary privilege online. Hence, they are not able to just spout off about anything that they wish without expecting to be challenged on what they wrote or posted.
For example, claiming other politicians are corrupt with no shred of evidence.
Even more importantly, MPs must post well-researched facts, along with their respective sources, in order to not just gain and retain credibility but, more importantly, to help educate the people about pertinent facts or issues. For example, giving information pertaining to hurricane preparedness or financial literacy.
Let’s not be mistaken, every parliamentarian has their own personal and political ideology, and some things that they speak about will be in that vein.
As prime examples, a member of a right-wing conservative party will most likely subscribe to and speak about the need for smaller government or less civil servants. Likewise, a member of a left-wing grassroots party will speak on issues concerning those same government workers.
As such, any given politician will attempt to put forward points to further their ideologies and/or win people over.
The irony is that most of the electorate in the 21st century is neither Left nor Right. As such, they tend to get turned off by what can be perceived as overt propaganda.
Therefore, it is more beneficial to post or speak on issues that resonate with or help to educate all segments of the electorate. There is not one politician that can please everyone, but they can do their best not to use social media to alienate large segments of the population.
Alternatively, here are some examples of good use of social media for parliamentarians:
• Establishing a presence on all social-media platforms
• Asking constituents for their feedback via Facebook or WhatsApp
• Informing the constituents/public about legislation coming up or just passed
• Sharing infographics with constituents/general public that will help to explain the pros and cons of any number of issues
• Networking with MPs in different countries, leading to the sharing of information that is of benefit to the region
For a point of clarity, most of this was learnt the hard way through much trial and error. Additionally, there will be other parliamentarians and/or political consultants who can share other advice on proper social-media use for free or for a fee.
What is most important is that elected officials engage more proactively with those whom they represent and the wider populace in general. Social media is by far the most effective and efficient way to do so.
In conclusion, I submit that social media, properly used, is a benefit to our ever-evolving democracy.
• Christopher Famous is a government backbencher and the MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at email@example.com