Social media can be an effective tool for MPs when done the right way

Chris Terry, Former Research Officer

Posted on the 5th February 2018

Political nuts were sent into a frenzy last week by the launch of a new social media platform – Matt Hancock.

To briefly explain – the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, has launched an app for communicating with his constituents in West Suffolk.

The Matt Hancock app provides news about Matt Hancock, photos and allows people to post comments and chat. It also promises future Matt Hancock live streams.

Whatever one thinks of the app, the idea is laudable. MPs need to communicate with constituents, and should be available in the spaces within which people live their daily lives. Many of us have smart phones now and so the ability to communicate directly with our representatives is there.

Unfortunately for the people of West Suffolk and Matt Hancock (both the man and the app), the app was quickly taken over by lobby journalists.

Yet, it demonstrates the increasing importance of the online space in MPs’ communication. According to the website – which collates statistics about MP tweets – 581 MPs, 89% of the total, have a twitter account. Many also have Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and are on Snapchat.

Social media is not without its downsides. Critics of Donald Trump, for instance, would argue that he has used twitter as a bully pulpit, attacking and delegitimising critics.

It is also true that social media has a problem with online misogyny that the platforms desperately need to crack down upon.

Yet the reality is the numbers speak for themselves. Around half a billion tweets are sent every day and Facebook has more than 2 billion monthly active users. MPs need to go to where voters are.

Social media has many uses for a politician. It can be used to campaign. It can amplify the voice of rebellious MPs. And it can be used for engagement. But overall the best social media accounts are probably the most human. For example, see the below tweet from long-time ERS ally Jonny Reynolds MP.

Or this tweet from Nicholas Soames MP, whose hashtags are legendary:

Or this bipartisan tweet from Johnny Mercer MP:

Having a sense of humour on social media and politicians being themselves helps to break down barriers. MPs on social media are more accessible than ever before and it’s a reminder that, ultimately, they’re people. People in privileged positions of power but people nonetheless. At its best social media can reduce the distance between voters and MPs.

Fourteen years on from the launch of Facebook and twelve on from the launch of Twitter, it is a daily presence in our lives that has expanded into the mainstream. It will continue to advance and evolve with time.

There’s still much to learn about social media. Much to combat and change and new realities to deal with. We need to think seriously about these challenges and experiment with new ways of doing things.

But social media is here to stay, and it is good that politics is engaging with it. Whether Matt Hancock takes off or doesn’t, it’s good to see MPs trying new things and trying to grasp the possibilities of modern technology and what it offers in terms of engaging with their constituents.

There will be pitfalls along the way, but there is much to learn from every attempt.

Picture Credit – UK Parliament 

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