Social Media and the Assembly Election

A number of people have referred to this week’s Assembly Election as the “Twitter Election”. This can be looked at in a number of ways: the number of politicians and parties on Twitter/Facebook, the number of journalists now using social media, as well as members of the public discussing politics and election through these online methods.

During the course of last night’s leaders debate 950 tweets were sent using the hashtag #ae11 and 660 sent using #ae11debate (many of those probably included both hashtags). “Peter Robinson”, “leaders debate”, “Tom Elliot”, “Margaret Ritchie”, “SDLP”, “Tom Elliott”, “David Ford” and “Marty” were all mentioned enough to trend in the UK both during and after the televised debate as online debate carried on. And the BBC did a good job of manning it’s @bbcnivote2011 feed.

UTV have also been very notable in getting a vast number of it’s journalists, presenters and various departments signed up to twitter, and releasing verified stories, including a partnership with Slugger O’Toole, bringing a series of “Tweetups”, or Twitter Roadshows, in Derry, East Belfast, Ballymena and Enniskillen – simply a method of getting the views of people in different constituencies, bringing the online chat offline. Also been particularly informative through their @utvelection election feed.

Facebook is another popular choice, to many, more popular due to how easy it is to “game” by adding friends in the hope that they will reciprocate, though my thoughts are very different in terms of using Facebook over Twitter. Especially when politicians do it wrong. I mentioned in a recent post that businesses and public figures, including politicians, should not use a personal profile on Facebook when connecting with people, or publicising their message. At the NI Assembly Tweetup in March, Jim Wells told me he wasn’t concerned that he was breaking Facebook’s own rules by knowingly promoting himself using a personal profile, in his own words: “Well, if they don’t know…” Not the best attitude really.

There are a few reasons, which I will reiterate again, the biggest deciding factor for anyone should be that it’s against Facebook’s rules: “Pages are for organizations, businesses, celebrities, and bands to broadcast great information in an official, public manner to people who choose to connect with them.” That includes politicians. Of course any natural person can create and use Facebook if they so wish, though if they want to promote their politics and policies and it is clear that is the case with many of the current batch of candidates in NI, though some are using private profiles, clearly meant for friends/family only. Though there are others who have no interest in following the rules.

For those worried about losing “friends” changing to a page, Facebook have a profile to page migration tool which carries across all friends and profile picture to a page. This also eliminates the maximum rule of 5,000 friends enforced on a profile.

I often want to “follow” a party/politician to watch their views and agenda, though I don’t always “like” them, and rarely am I their “friend”, so Twitter will generally take precedent for me. The problem with Facebook is that it is largely a “walled garden”, whereas Twitter is much more open. And for those who insist on using a Facebook profile rather than a page; those status updates updates are not viewable to anyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account unless it is done via a page.

View the list of all 218 Assembly candidates and their use of Facebook and Twitter, as well as a break-down of each party’s use of social media.

Leave a comment if there are any Facebook or Twitter accounts that have been left out and I will amend the list.

Photographer, explorer, guru, quiet, loud, easily entertained, cynical. Likes some things. Dislikes most things. Currently experiencing an identity crisis.

Co-Founder of Belfast Skeptics.