The most trouble was from the greybeards. There was an age barrier in the hotel meeting room and the chair was ready for the jibes, jokes and jaded comments from us older attendees. We were there to learn about using the Internet’s newest social media for political parties, candidates and office holders. What the chair was not ready for was that some of the older attendees knew far more about Internet use than they were letting on.
Maybe we were the ones old enough to know that when you attend conference sessions on familiar topics, you are sure to learn at least one or two things you did not know before. I certainly do and I did again this time. I probably made the harshest comments about twits who twitter but I was also willing to admit that I really wanted to understand how Twitter can be used more effectively.
Twitter is still a newcomer among the growing list of social media and seems to have been designed for the Blackberry age. The limitation in any posting on Twitter is that you cannot exceed 140 characters and that makes it a special challenge. It grates me of course that an entirely new language is emerging to thwart this limitation. If you can use a “U” when you mean “you,” two characters have been saved. In the same way 2’s are ‘two, to’s and too’s’ which works well for the illiterate. Using the 1001 variations of smiley faces is not required.
Facebook is second only to MySpace in the social media field but is more adaptable to political needs. Both have their roots in the American university scene where the main exchange of social information previously was in noisy bars. The recent complaints and concerns about invasion of privacy by Facebook tend to work for political users as much of the data has to be able to bear close scrutiny anyway.
Other major players in social media are You Tube and flickr. Which came first, You Tube or the camera/cell phone is the question but they are certainly made for each other. Politicians have to recognize that the person in the audience holding up a cell phone as the politician is speaking is not checking the service bars on the phone.
The flickr website adds something like 7000 pictures to its albums every minute of every day. The dirty old men who used to open their raincoats for the unsuspecting now have unfettered competition as people expose their bad photography to world-wide scrutiny. Quality is forgiven though if the pictures are of your grandchildren. To a politician, the ability to be linked through artful tags and the linkages to blogs makes flickr a very handy tool to improve exposure.
And that leaves blogs. Please do not say you do not read blogs: this is a blog. One of the most important points made at the conference was that people who are elected or hope to be elected write blogs at their peril. The reason is simple: nothing that appears on the Internet can ever be truly erased. There are too many repeaters, nodes and people storing for the supposed big brother to correct history for us. And while the original material might be erroneous or designed to mislead, the anarchy of the Internet will soon correct the situation on our behalf.
It should not disillusion you to learn that elected people do not write their own blogs, send tweets, add pics or clips, comment or otherwise expose themselves to the bruising elements of the Internet. When a professional on their staff does them for the politician, they are usually much better reasoned, often more interesting and, most important, deniable. And while Stephen Harper might have 30,000 crazed Conservatives avidly following his tweets, you know that the paid staffer who does them will be fired the minute he or she makes an error in judgement that reflects negatively on the boss.
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