I had an interesting exchange on Twitter this afternoon with Brian Mason, leader of Alberta’s NDP and MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. After discovering his new blog this weekend, I posted a link on Twitter and noted the irony in Mr. Mason’s new social media presence following criticisms he made about the Alberta Party‘s focus on social media (it also seems silly to me that the leader of the fourth largest party would spend time criticizing the fifth largest party).
My tweet was only intended as a passing comment and in hindsight I should have known that it might be interpreted differently. Here is a thread of the main conversation (see here for more):
@bmasonndp: @davecournoyer Dave, if you delivered your message via pony express, it would still be snake oil.
In 2009, Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain gave one the best descriptions of Twitter that I have read: “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful.” So true.
Although the NDP Caucus have been using social media as part of their communications for a few years now, Twitter is a different medium than most politicians are accustomed to.
While many Alberta Party supporters have become passionate Tweeters, for many of them it is the time they have been involved in a political party and some of them easily take offence to such criticisms. They should not. They should learn from them and move on.
As @DJKelly mentioned in his tweet, Twitter is more like a Town Hall. The interaction on Twitter are less useful when focused on partisan and soundbite-filled confrontation encouraged in traditional political institutions like Question Period, and more useful when focused on actual collaboration and discussion. In my mind, this is one of the qualities that makes social media much more engaging and useful than some of our traditional political institutions.
It has been my experience that in order to fully understand Twitter, it is best to use it for a while. @Nenshi, @DonIveson, @MinisterJono, and @GriffMLA are four good examples of elected officials in our province who have demonstrated that they understand how to use the medium.
At the first Changecamp Edmonton event in October 2009, the question was asked: How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation? At the time, Justin Archer wrote a great column about why this question is critically important and why it is important to re-think our government systems in order to ensure that they are still relevant for us.
Many of the discussions that I had with participants at Changecamp Edmonton and the many friendships that I developed at of that event helped reshape how I view politics and political engagement today. This includes how social media can be used to engage with our elected officials and government leaders.
Today’s exchange may not be exactly what I had in mind when I think of the ideas discussed at Changecamp, but it did teach me a lesson about how to engage with elected officials new to social media. I hope that even after his 22 years in politics, that Mr. Mason will learn and grow from his social media experiences as well.