New media is forcing politicians to engage (and the way we will do politics to change)

So the Oireachtas report on the Growth of Social Media and tackling Cyberbullying has gone for a sensible approach to the issue of the internet and cyberbullying. Karlin Lillington in the Irish Times contrasts a measured report with a sometimes hysterical reaction in parliament:

One of the more ludicrous sideshows in the online bullying debate surrounding the Oireachtas hearings and submissions and the consequent report, however, was the regularity with which politicians made the story all about them.

They too, were the victims of online bullying, these people stated. People out there were not nice to them – and could be downright rude and nasty – on various social media forums, blogs, Twitter and via direct emails.

Sound familiar? Lillington continues…

Go back beyond the age of television and you’d have been making stump speeches to an audience regularly loaded with anonymous hecklers and angry citizens. A shout from a crowd is as anonymous as an unsigned email or tweet.

And individuals should surely have chosen some less front-facing profession than politics if they are thin-skinned or overly concerned with constituency politeness. I mean, deriding politicians (and for that matter, journalists) is an age-old affair.

And finally…

…mails and tweets are as real and meaningful and valid a communication medium as the (once newfangled) fax and letter. The people writing care about issues and most often, are the citizens you represent.

Now, you have to hear from them and engage with them more directly and frequently than before. That’s called democracy. A more real one than the land of letters and faxes.

If politicians are now being forced by new media to engage like they once had to before radio and tv, then one of the first skills they will have to relearn is spontaneity… This in turn poses a challenge for party managers regarding the degree of freedom for individuals they are prepared to allow/enable

John Kellden suggests that such loosening will (eventually) entail a more intelligent and flexible leadership style and striving for a much higher degree of “shared understanding and shared purpose” both inside and outside the organisational machine.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty