Thursday, June 4, 2009

Use of Social media in the 2009 European elections

On my twitter today, I wrote “just saw Joe Higgins canvassing outside the GPO. No moratorium around here!” Within minutes “VoteJoeHiggins” had replied and told me that the moratorium only applies to broadcast media. After the last US Election showed what power social media can wield in a modern election, I went in search of the social media used by the various MEP candidates in my own constituency of Dublin.

Starting out with the aforementioned Joe Higgins, I noticed through his website that he has a strong presence online. The drop-down tab “social networks” reveals the campaign’s profiles on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Ustream, Bebo, Myspace and CandidateWatch. His Facebook and Bebo pages are regularly updated with snippets from the campaign trail. Photos are uploaded onto Flickr, and recordings of Mr. Higgins talking about his election policies are uploaded onto his YouTube (and in turn onto his own website.) Impressively, the Joe Higgins campaign uses UStream to stream some press conferences and speeches as they happen.

The Sinn Féin MEP candidate works mainly from a section on the Sinn Féin homepage. Mary-Lou McDonald keeps a regular blog on the site, detailing her experiences while campaigning. Her YouTube channel features speeches and excerpts from Ms. McDonald’s time in the European Parliament (although her pronunciation of “Eorpach” is a bit dodgy in one of the videos). Photos are also uploaded onto her site, although few seem to be from canvassing. Ms. McDonald seems to b e working from the Sinn Féin profiles on YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Myspace (as are all the Sinn Féin MEP candidates).

Fianna Fail candidate Eoin Ryan has his own website (well, he’d hardly be using the site with the huge Fianna Fail logo on it now). Mr. Ryan has a well stocked Photo Gallery, with photos of him in the European Parliament, on his travels around the world and with a few politicians (Bertie Ahern, Michael Martin, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Claude Trichet*, Tom Kitt, one of the many Ardaghs, Brian Lenihan, Pat Cox) and, bizarrely enough, Packie Bonner. Mr. Ryan keeps a well-updated Twitter (although the speediness of his replies does not match Joe Higgins), a Facebook group and a blog on Blogspot entitled “The Campaign Trail”.

Former Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna, now running as an independent, also works from a .eu domain- . Ms McKenna keeps up the trend by having her own Facebook profile- with messages of support from as far afield as The Netherlands and Denmark. Her Information bar (displayed just under the profile photo) reads – “Patricia McKenna was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and has 10 years experience in the parliament. Standing as an independent, she believes it’s time for a strong independent voice to represent the people of Dublin in Europe.” Compare this to Eoin Ryan’s “Your Voice in Europe”. If slogan length was an indicator of a good representative, Ms. McKenna would surely top the polls. Ms McKenna also has her own YouTube video stream on her website, detailing (albeit at far greater length than any of the other candidates) her policy for the European Parliament.

The award for the best website layout must surely go to Labour MEP Pronsias DeRossa. The Labour MEP bucks the trend of .eu domains with his website. No first names around these parts. Mr DeRossa uses his slick-looking website for an excellent blog and video stream. Mr DeRossa, at this stage a seasoned MEP (this is his tenth year in office) uses his video stream for more than mere speeches or to outline policy, however. His video stream adresses questions such as “What does an MEP do?” and also to show us “A Day in my life as a member of the European Parliament”. The former Democratic Left and Workers’ Party leader also has profiles on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

Independent Emmanuel Sweeney, who is also running in the local elections, seems not to have a huge online presence. The only mention I could find of him were on, where he has a photo and details of which positions he was running for. Apart from this, there is only a mention on popular forum one poster enthuses “Emmanuel Sweeney is the only for Europe...word is around my office that he is going to landslide it.” This is met promptly by another post- “Yes, but who exactly is Emmanuel Sweeney ?” However the original poster claims “Emmanuel Sweeney is the only true democrat that doesnt waste tax payers money or try to brain washes you with posters, canvassing, leaflets, websites or even using the TV when on it.”

Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell, currently topping the Irish Times/TNS mrbi polls, has both a section on the Fine Gael website and his own - . As per usual, videos are uploaded onto this site of speeches, policy statements... they all sound the same after listening to a dozen of them. Actually maybe they usually sound the same anyway. Mr Mitchell has photos of him (from his Flickr account, no less) around Dublin, with various FG councillors and in the European Parliament.

The Libertas candidate, Caroline Simons, is at . Ms Simons’ opening page contains an impassioned plea which is rather eye-catching against a black background; “We need to take Europe back for the people of Dublin, Ireland and Europe. I need your Number 1 Vote to do this. Maybe you usually vote for Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, Labour or Independent. Are you happy with where they have got us? I’m not, and I’d like to do something about it. If we want something different, we have to do something different. I’m asking you for a job to work for you.” Ms Simons uploads videos including “Never mind the MEPs, here’s the truth” and “Why you should vote for Caroline”. There is also an on-site blog containing, as Ms Simons herself puts it “snippets of how my campaign is progressing”.

Overall the MEP candidates (apart from Emmanuel Sweeney) seemed to have embraced new social media. In particular there is a prevalence of videos, blogs, Facebook groups and twitter updating. These provide prospective voters with a way to see what exactly it is their candidates stand for beyond the posters they see outside. To see the Irish political system lurch forward into this new age of instant communication and information is a little bewildering.

*I fully realise that Jean-Claude Trichet is not a politician, and is in fact the head of the European Central Bank

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