I’ve tried very hard to keep this blog a-political and this post is no exception. However, as a former constituent of David Wright MP and a strong advocate of political use of social media, I felt it was important I put out a blog regarding the news story about the “Scum sucking pigs” comment that has been attributed to him.
I’ve known David Wright MP for many years. I’ve met him in a professional capacity as well as in a personal capacity, having lived and worked in the Telford area for many years. As someone who is vocal on local and national issues, I’ve often approached David and always found him to be a responsive MP. By and large I’ve agreed with him or seen his point and he’s always struck me as honest, so when he says his twitter account was hacked when the message was posted, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I should point out here, by way of a disclaimer, that I’m not connected to any political party nor am I endorsing that people vote for David….I’m simply putting forward my opinion as a former constituent.
My worries about the story were confirmed when I tuned into the media today and realised that the anti-twitter stories that seem to fill the media daily had reached the political stage. David’s comment, be it a misjudged throwaway comment or malicious hack, had thrown him into the political spotlight and, with it, the use of twitter by politicians trying to engage our interest.
Local BBC radio was quick to pick up the story and keen tweeter Jim Hawkins did a fascinating phone in show about the use of Twitter by politicians. It kicked off with an interview with Steve Molyneux (@profontheprowl), a fellow social media buff and learning technologist, who has seen the dark side of Twitter himself. Steve rightly pointed to the dangers of making sure your social media site isn’t compromised. He also questioned, however, the use Twitter is as an engagement tool for politicians. More on this point later. A later caller summed up my feelings sting: “it isn’t Twitter that’s at fault here – it’s how people use it.” Another few stated that twitter was simply a “trendy” tool of the moment and that they would “rather see their MP” than hear them on Twitter. Meanwhile, Conservative HQ, keen to defend themselves against the comments, claimed that: “This is exactly the sort of politics that voters are so sick of”.
What I wondered, looking at all that, was whether this was the sort of politics people were sick of, or whether people were also sick of the politics where a throwaway comment gets blown out of all proportion. Anyone who reads David Wright’s tweets can be in no doubt of his dislike of the Conservative party. No one takes issue with this. He is, after all, a Labour politician. Even if he had posted his controversial “scum sucking pig” comment, it would not have shown him as a hypocrite, nor devalued his opinion on any policy. It may have shown him to be juvenile but, if the British public are so sick of juvenile comments, why is it that we crave the controversial guests on Question Time and why is it that Jeremy Kyle still gets such high viewing figures? Actually, in terms of the latter, why is that?
My worry here is that there are a large group of people who do not engage with mainstream politics but do engage with social media could be engaged in the political process through the use of Twitter. David claims to be and, to my knowledge is, the only Shropshire MP using Twitter. Even his critics were quick to congratulate him on using Twitter on Jim’s radio show. But maybe, as that caller had said, it was how he used it. Politicians need to maintain some decorum on twitter.
Problem is, when I was recently asked what one piece of advice I’d give to someone starting out their brand in social media, I said: “Think of your brand as a person – a social media account that does not have personality is worse than none at all.” So, how do you justify this if you can’t make the odd throw-away comment? After all, we all do this, all the time.
I’m not sure what the answer is, however I do know that, in a world where people are getting on social media, comments will come back to haunt people. Sometimes, rightly, when they expose that person as someone who is not being honest. However, when they simply go a bit over the top, I think we should simply demand, and accept, an apology. If politics becomes about who said what to whom and when, in a world of social media, it will descend into a farce and the tweeters and facebookers, like their “real life” cousins, will join the apathy club. Maybe I’m not the normal mainstream. But I want my politicians online. I want them to make mistakes. I want them to be human.