Yes, minister. The people have tweeted; it’s social media

15 Oct 2009

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Twitter was vital to US President Barack Obama’s election campaign and is now a tool of choice, particularly among UK politicians. Alberto Nardelli is the co-founder of Tweetminister.co.uk.

How does Tweetminister work and is Twitter a good thing for politicians to be using?

We aggregate the various political networks of MPs, candidates, spin doctors, journalists, bloggers – everyone with something to say about politics – to help people interact directly with these individuals.

We are planning to launch tools to help people analyse all the various tweets that politicians, bloggers and journalists write.

It leads to greater transparency. The other good thing, from a journalistic perspective, is that, as with all rumours, tweets need to be verified. Journalists have been burned before by quoting someone on Twitter and they need to be careful that it is genuine. At the same time, if you sit back and wait a few minutes, someone will debunk a new rumour if it is untrue. One way or another, the truth always emerges on Twitter.

In Ireland, politicians aren’t known for being tech savvy. Why are UK politicians taking to social media in a big way?

Politicians are growing up very quickly with social media in the UK. When we launched Tweetminister in December, there were only four MPs with Twitter accounts, now there are 83.

Because Westminister is such a close-knit community, it has meant that word of mouth is now spreading faster than before.

I spoke to a shadow cabinet member recently – he reads all the news in the Westminister bubble on Twitter and finds it to be a powerful tool. As a politician, being ahead of the curve is important, but so too is connecting people.

At the time of Michael Jackson’s death, there were 5,000 tweets on Twitter before the first wire story broke. Is Twitter emerging as a rival to newspapers and news websites?

I don’t think Twitter competes with journalism as analysis, but where it does compete is on the news side. It certainly makes the news cycle quicker. Not only does it break stories, but the story also spreads much more quickly.

In a world where rumour spreads like wildfire, is Twitter not a dangerous tool for politicians to be using?

In the UK, Chris Bryant announced on Twitter that he was the new European Minister and journalists tweeted back asking when did that happen. Politicians in Germany have tweeted ahead of official announcements.

Yes, politicians can get into trouble this way and especially if they express opinions contrary to the party line. But the other side of the coin is that established communications structures like political parties are realising they can connect directly with people and be more open; it’s an opportunity.

What barriers do you think Twitter has broken down?

Twitter is different from Facebook or MySpace because it doesn’t rely on where your friends are. It is changing the way we communicate, not just with friends but also broadly with journalists and society.

It creates a level playing field where journalists interact with ministers who in turn interact with the voters and the readers. Some day something better than Twitter may come along, but the fact is we can communicate more instantly. That shift is here to stay.

Alberto Nardelli was a guest speaker at the Dublin Web Summit on 30 October.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com