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For a while now I have restrained myself from talking about politics on this blog, but since the 2011 General Election is drawing near and I feel very strongly about exercising my right to vote, I have decided to get my thoughts together on our prospective candidates, and what I can find out about them via their online presence.

I work away from home between the hours of 8am to 7pm each weekday so I am unlikely to be canvassed at all during this election. I read a lot of blogs however and I’m a Twitter addict, so I just wanted to see how these candidates have done in reaching out to the likes of me. What I have found is rather uninspiring.

Using TheJournal.ie’s excellent roundup of the candidates, here are some of my impressions.

  • Fianna Fáil (Michael Ahern and Kevin O’Keeffe) don’t have much of a social media policy at all. No Twitter, no videos, no blogs, just static web-pages and a Facebook account for O’Keeffe. Their candidate web-pages are devoid of anything that might persuade me to change my mind.
  • Fine Gael is more interesting. All of the candidates have a live video. (Pa O’Driscoll had one but for some reason it has been taken down). David Stanton’s video does not inspire a huge amount of confidence. It could have been a lot better in my opinion. I felt as if I was reading his CV and I didn’t get any feeling for what drives him and his passion for change. This is a potential government minister, so I would have expected a bit more drive. Tom Barry’s video is better, hitting the point on the main points of his candidacy. All three candidates have Twitter streams with Pa O’Driscoll leading by miles in terms of engagement and David Stanton saying aloof from any interaction with the great unwashed. Tom Barry shouldn’t have bothered with Twitter, given tweets such as the following: “Thanks to the canvass crews out over the weekend! Ye are pure marters for the cause out in that rain!” David StantonPa O’Driscoll and Tom Barry all have passable blogs.
  • Now we get to Labour. Sean Sherlock is engaging with people on Twitter but he has no video that I could find. His website is also, how do I put it, parochial. Here is a guy who could possibly find himself in the cabinet and yet he is campaigning on the subject of local roads and rezoning. Honestly, I’d prefer if these guys started thinking about Ireland and less about the parish pump. John Mulvihill has another parochial website, a Twitter stream (not engaging), and no video to give us an impression of what he is like. I am leaning towards Labour in this election but neither of the candidates inspire me with much confidence.

From here on in we are dealing with smaller parties and independent candidates. None of them have ever served as a TD and they have fairly low profiles. So you would expect them to be using every media outlet, including social media, to sell their message. Right?

  • Sandra McLellan, Sinn Féin’s candidate has no website or video or Twitter account, so apart from their policies which I think are woefully ignorant of basic economics and belong to the 19th Century, I know very little else about her.
  • Malchy Harty of the Green Party is a photographer, but he fails to put up a video of himself to tell us why we should vote for him. No blog (just a static web-page) and no Twitter. I will grant that he has a somewhat less parochial vision, but that’s about it. Very little to go on here.
  • Paul O’Neill has a website and a video. You actually get to see what this guy is thinking and what he is interested in doing. No Twitter though, no blogging and nothing in his Facebook page that I can see.
  • Paul Burke also has a static website and a video (I had to do a bit of rummaging to find it) which is quite good except for the fact that “Independent” is spelt incorrectly in the title. I find the policies here a bit wishy washy. He wants change but I don’t get a strong sense of vision around it.
  • Claire Cullinane has a static website and audio stream to help her outline her policies and a Facebook page where we find that she has been educated in the University of Life (hmm). No Twitter and no blogging – just a static web-page. Again, the policies seem quite vague. I’m not sure what I would be voting for.
  • Patrick Bullman has just a static web-page where he outlines his political philosophy. Not much else to go on.

So, what do I know? Fine Gael have definitely tried the hardest to engage with social media, Fianna Fail are a write-off, Labour are somewhat disappointing, and only a handful of independents or smaller party candidates have done very much at all to raise their profiles. While this is not the only information I will take into account when making my vote, it is interesting nonetheless.

Update: In an earlier version of this posting I wrote that Tom Barry didn’t have a blog and that based on his Twitter comments he shouldn’t have bothered to write one either. I subsequently found his blog and I need to, how do you say – eat my words. You live and learn I guess.

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I have to admit I am a late starter to Twitter. Like many people, I didn’t particularly see the point. So what if you are eating ham for dinner? So what if you enjoyed the latest episode of the X-Factor? Or you were just bored? To me, it seemed a glorious exercise in inanity, best left to people with way too much time on their hands. I had an account on Facebook. I had my blog. What more did I need?

Nevertheless, I dipped my toe in last June, motivated primarily by the feeling that I was somehow missing the point. I started following a few people and I quickly learned the lingo. I shared a few interesting photos and links. Over the course of a few weeks, my antipathy to the medium began to mellow. I now have to admit there is much more to it than meets the eye. It’s fast, reactive, informative and often highly entertaining. There is a dynamism to it that is quite unique. While blogs and web-pages are the fields and towns of the cyberscape, Twitter has been chosen as the shiny new motorway.

Twitter is powerful too. Even though the number of people who use it is still relatively small, the combined voice of the Twitter community can be deafening when there is a worthy cause to tweet for. We witnessed this in real time this week, when the Trafigura affair broke. It all started when the Guardian newspaper in the UK was prevented from reporting a parliamentary question in the House of Commons – an assault, if there ever was one, on democracy and freedom of speech. Within hours, Twitterers had uncovered who the main players were, what the issue was, and why they wanted so badly to keep the news secret. Trafigura are implicated in a massive toxic waste dumping scandal in Africa: arguably the biggest health disaster committed by a multinational corporation since Bhopal. Nobody knew very much about them until last week. Now we all know, and oh boy, it’s going to get very difficult from here on in for the ladies and gentlemen running that company. For a few hours, Trafigura and their insidious legal representatives Carter Ruck became the No. 1 trending topics on Twitter. Telephone numbers and email addresses were publicised and bombarded. Protests were planned outside their offices. Government ministers were pressed for answers. The report they desperately wanted to suppress was leaked to the Internet and is now stored on myriads of hard drives. The official media could only stand back in amazement as tens of thousands of Twitterers, like piranhas scenting blood, flayed the reputation of Trafigura into shreds. The “Twirlwind” finally abated when Carter Ruck flew the white flag, allowing the media to report the parliamentary question, as was their legal right in the first place.

Today another twirlwind went into full effect when Jan Moir of the Daily Mail penned a snide invective against the gay community using the recently deceased Boyzone singer Stephen Gately as her ammo du jour. In the course of the storm (which is still ongoing as I write), a number of companies pulled their advertising from the online edition of the Daily Mail and her article is the subject of over a thousand submissions to the Press Complaints Commission. In the course of the day, a rattled Moir issued an explanation, if not quite a retraction.

The clear message from both incidents is that Twitter has the power to effect real change. Its muscles flexed this week, and open season has been declared on anyone who wants to conceal information from the public, reveal the extent of their bigotry, or force their people into submission. If corporations, governments and anyone putting themselves up as representatives of the common people are not worried yet, they should be.

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