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Does Twitter do more harm than good for politicians?

09.03.2013
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Since the successful utilisation of social media by Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, politicians from around the world have jumped on the social bandwagon in an attempt to prove their cool.  That very few of these accounts are actually touched by the politicians in question is probably a mute point when it comes to determining whether they’re actually effective or not.

An Australian researcher is attempting to find out.  He is tracking the performance of current federal MPs, election candidates and their parties on Twitter during the current Australian elections.

On the plus side, they’ve found that social media allows politicians to bypass the mainstream media, publishing direct to their followers with their message rather than relying upon tv and print to do so for them.

There is a downside however, and a misplaced tweet can have major consequences.

“Using social media is more likely to put politicians at a disadvantage if they make bad mistakes, which can quickly turn into major issues, especially once they’re picked up by mainstream media,” Professor Axel Bruns said.

“So the penalties for a badly conceived tweet or post may be greater than the benefits of a good one.”

What’s more, Bruns found that having a strong following online does not translate into success at the ballot box, which is something politicians such as Ron Paul no doubt know only too well.

The research found that current prime minister Kevin Rudd has thus far achieved 200,000 @mentions, compared to 126,000 for rival Tony Abbott.  Despite this however, Rudd is thus far trailing Abbott in the polls.

The use of social media for such things remains very much in the broadcast realm however, with very little in the way of interaction performed by the staff that run the accounts for the politicians.  This is typified by the often lengthy approval process required before any content is published, thus pretty much eradicating the possibility for any natural, off the cuff interactions with followers.

Given the tremendous work people such as Beth Noveck have been doing in using social media to really improve democracy, I would say that the odd rogue tweet is not half as damaging as using Twitter et al as just another broadcast megaphone.

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