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These silly tweets should have been knocking doors instead

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 09/05/2015

This was supposed to be the online election, with campaigning run by social media, and maybe that is part of what went wrong.

Candidates did not get out on to the streets to meet people; they did not call at our doors in significant numbers. But they tweeted and kept in touch through Facebook, and that means that they were talking to each other and to political nerds when they should have been talking to voters.

One of the most prolific social media operators on the political scene here is Mairtin O Muilleoir. He looked busy. He was out and about and tweeting selfies of himself as @newbelfast.

"You will know by now i am topping the poll" he wrote on election night. Actually, he was destined to come in fourth, with only half the votes of the poll leader in his constituency.

The trouble with tweeting is that it is about as efficient as hospital radio in reaching a mass audience. You might have tens of thousands of followers, but if they are not paying attention, if they are not online at the time you tweet, then you don't reach them.

And the cost of this fickle medium is that your critics, the nerds who despise you, who thrive on the toxins of sarcasm and disdain, can peg their message to yours.

Yvette Shapiro was tweeting a quote from Lady Sylvia that made the same point. "I'm not on Twitter or Facebook. It's not all about media. For me, it's about hard work on the ground."

Tweeters were expressing their anger. One called The Firemen dismissed Gavin Robinson's victory speech as "truly vile", which overstates it a bit. The poor man simply forgot to stop kicking when the battle was won.

Others on Facebook were much stronger still, swearing abusively.

But social media is an opportunity for some busy and thoughtful commentators too. One called Comrade Stalin summed up Nick Clegg's problem. A "fundamentally decent guy drawn to politics for the right reasons. Unfortunately he did not have the steel for coalition."

Sammy Wilson was almost giddy by the end of the night, tweeting, "dodds has got the acoustic guitar out. he's murdering wonderwall. eyes closed and everything."

Julian O'Neill summed up the difficulty our local parties will have in capitalising on the opportunity that didn't arise. "In campaigns, DUP + SF both said wanted to negotiate better £ deal for NI. But they will find No10 phone engaged by Nicola Sturgeon."

Tim Brannigan had fun posting a picture of Vince Cable in a plastic hygiene cap. "Vince reveals a 'remarkable transformation into Mr Bean, creating chaos out of order, rather than order out of chaos'". So the question over social media is whether it is a medium for effective campaigning or another way for the armchair politico to enjoy an election and chip in snide remarks or imaginative asides.

Much of the anger on Twitter was with the religious attitudes of some candidates.

The ever optimistic Eamonn McCann claimed to see a concern for gay rights cutting across sectarian traditions. "People cheering Danny Kinahan who never cheered a Unionist before. He was helped at polls by being the only Unionist to back equal marriage."

It may be time to reconsider the value of social media as a platform for campaigning. It is much more useful as a stage upon which the people can spit back at the politicians.

Belfast Telegraph

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