Monday, 1 June 2009

Is Twitter the new e-democracy?

A new report has revealed that Brighton and Hove Council is the subject of more 'tweets' than any other council in the UK: in other words, people use the social-networking site - in which users can post 'micro-blogs' of up to 140 characters (about 20 words) about any issue - to talk about the council more here than anywhere else.

Many of these will contain links to longer 'blog entries, and interesting articles elsewhere. I use Twitter to natter (like a twit) to Kemptown residents, Green Party supporters and those, of any party persuasion, for whom politics floats their boats.

Often, my so-called 'tweets' do little more then carry a headline with a link back to this 'blog for those who are interested to read more. You can see my recent efforts in the column to the right.

But this report has caused some to ask whether the twitter service serves as an extension of citizens' democratic participation. Indeed the council itself uses it regularly to keep twittering residents informed about service delivery improvement, interruption and the like

So it certainly empowers some - but I'm not sure that twitter users wouldn't have found the information elsewhere - the council's website, perhaps, if they are really interested.

And there's no evidence that the council is responding to either queries or complaints made on twitter: though, of course, I'd be glad to hear to the contrary.

(And I can certainly say that, as a ward councillor, I'll certainly treat any 'tweets' I receive in exactly the same way as any conventional email).

So I'm not so sure that, whatever its potential, all this twitter activity really enhances local democracy at all.

The Argus reported the study's results and, not surprisingly, the council itself was typically self-congratulatory about the way it has embraced the twitter phenomenon.

But there is nothing in the report itself to suggest that many of these mentions were complimentary about the council.

In fact, I reckon (as a 'follower' of all mention of the word 'Brighton' on Twitter) the opposite is true.

Here, for example, are my last few tweets mentioning Brighton and Hove City Council. I guess they all count towards the total, and, as you can see, they aren't usually particularly complimentary:

bloody Madeira Lift broken again! It's like a deliberate plan by Brighton Council to make life hard for visitors 12:48 PM May 31st from web

Tory council abandons open local government in Brighton - and recycling targets! 9:50 AM May 23rd from web

Brighton planners rejects parents' fears and give green light for 3G mobile phone mast just metres from two schools 9:16 AM May 22nd from web

Labour candidate in Goldsmid by-election, Brighton, seems to abandon party at centre of sleaze row 7:42 PM May 20th from web

Reminder: police and council officers due to answer questions about crime and safety in Brighton St James's Street. 2:53 PM May 19th from web

Polls in Sunday's papers suggest Brighton and Hove could face 2nd council by-election
11:50 AM May 18th from web

Brighton and Hove Council gives away free corporate advertising space at Jubilee Library 10:21 AM May 18th from web

You get the idea, I'm sure. But even if I'm unrepresentative (it certainly won't be the first time), it's clear that the study doesn't pretend to tell us anything at all about whether all those mentions of the council have been positive.

Perhaps the council should be ashamed it's attracting so much attention from the 'twitterati'?

1 comment:

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