Lib Dems in praise of Twitter

by Stephen Tall on March 10, 2009

There’s an irony in me writing this post. It’s about a fortnight now since I sat down and forced myself to work out how Twitter works, and what it was good for. I’d set up an account in 2007 (my first and last update recorded that I was “working frantically”; for whose benefit I uttered such an aphorism I now forget), but that’s as far as it went. I’m now gradually becoming a convert to the cause, in spite of rather than because of the Twitter-phile joy in which my LDV colleagues regularly indulge on this site – of which there are two exempla already this week, here and here.

The Times’s Rachel Sylvester has today published a widely panned article deriding the Twitter phenomenon, spuriously implying an inverse relationship between the growth in politicians who Twitter and a “wider loss of confidence by the political class”. Quite what her logic is escapes me – it appears to be a recycled hack-job of just the kind of nonsense which was being scribbled by journalists about blogging not so long ago. Before they themselves started blogging, that is. Or about texting before everyone realised how handy it is. Or about television/radio/telephone before that. Mostly, the article reads like the special pleading of someone so insecure about her own inability to comprehend something new that she would prefer to stick to simple knocking-copy instead.

Twitter is, let’s remember, simply a tool which allow its users to communicate and interact with each other in a way which suits them. It may not suit Rachel, it may not even suit Guido – but there are thousands of others it does suit. And many of them are constituents with just as much right to communicate with their MP as a Times journo.

But don’t take my word for it – a few other Lib Dem bloggers have today been extolling the virtues of Twitter, especially following its widespread deployment during the party’s spring conference this past weekend.

Here’s Lynne Featherstone MP:

… what’s really wrong with the piece is the idea that politicians shouldn’t move with the time. I don’t send telegrams. My campaign team has no carrier pigeons. I hardly ever use a classical reference in my speeches. And that’s because I’m not a Victorian politician. Times change. The public changes. Today – 2009 – many of my constituents and other people are on Twitter – and so it makes sense for me to be too. If that’s how they choose to get information, it’s not a lack of identity that makes me honour those choices – it’s respect for the public.

And Twitter-sceptic Joe Otten:

Back from the Lib Dems spring conference in Harrogate, the greatest revelation for me was the use of twitter to comment on live proceedings. The ‘back-channel’ is the technical term for this kind of electronic muttering at the back of the room instead of paying attention to teacher. It has long been said about conferences that the main point is getting to meet people and talk to them, rather than the official speeches and whatnot. Twitter, it seems, brings some of the benefits of being able to talk, to a medium in which you are expected to sit, listen, and clap politely. I signed up to Twitter a couple of years but didn’t really see the point and didn’t use it. And I still don’t really – I probably won’t use it again until the next conference. But during the debate on faith schools – and is this really yet another Lib Dem first ? – I had to do what I could to sway the vote, and I had access probably to a handful of other delegates following the #ldconf tag.

And finally Twitter-scepticimus Jeremy Hargreaves:

I can’t imagine that I’ll spend a huge amount of time on it … But the weekend was something different. … Where I thought this worked really well, and I enjoyed it, was in a couple of the big events – specifically the big debate on schools policy, the leader’s speech, and Howard Dean’s speech. People were able to post their instant responses – ranging from simply repeating phrases that a speaker in the debate had said that they thought was especially telling, or indeed thought were nonsense, to other people (one in particular) using many points made in the real debate to repeat his request via Twitter for us to vote a particular way, to attempts at satire or humour. … At its best however, I did quite enjoy it – it was an opportunity to give instant feedback on what you’re hearing, and of course, like blogging and indeed speaking, whether that’s worth listening to depends on whether you want to listen to the person speaking.