TDs take note, Facebook and Twitter might have begun in Roman times, at least according to a recently released book called ‘Writing on the Wall’.
Author Tom Standage argues that social media was in fact created thousands of years ago as Romans used slaves to transfer news, pictures and anecdotes between friends.
So around 1500BB (before broadband) academics and politicians in the Roman Empire were sending links, memes and tweets.
These days though, politicians have easy access to a much bigger audience and can send messages to thousands of people with just a click of a button. Even so, many don’t post their own tweets or Facebook posts, leading to very wooden and uninteresting interactions on social media.
Some politicians use it to their advantage, while others are still in Roman times when it comes to their online use. Here’s a look at the top and the twits in the political social media game.
THE BAD: JAMES REILLY – 639 likes – 5701 followers
The Minister for Health has been under a lot of fire since the budget and his social media presence hasn’t exactly endeared him to the public.
The Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Minister both feature stock shots as their profile pictures, while every post refers to himself in the third person.
People react to opinion and to people saying what they think, feel and want online. The articles with the most comments and interaction on most news sites are those that give a strong view.
An intern or PA posting things like “Minister Reilly welcomes HSE Medical Card information campaign” on a page that is supposed to represent the views of an elected official hardly makes for interesting reading. It may provide fodder for journalists on a slow news day, but appears to be the opposite of strong leadership for the public at large.
Minister Reilly is not the only politician with profiles like these. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and others have social media pages that provide very little insight into their actual thoughts. Many have no online representation, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin the most notable.
THE GOOD: LEO VARADKAR – Personal FB page and 486 on like page – 3473 followers
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is one of the younger cabinet members and has built a solid online following.
The Minister is particularly adept at Twitter, where his interactions are a cut above the rest.
He tweets his reaction to political news as well as asking for some opinion on his own policies. However he mixes this with social interaction and isn’t afraid to have a laugh at himself.
Minister Varadkar recently tweeted a mock movie poster that featured him photo shopped into the ad for the new ‘Thor’ film. The poster read “From the makers of Game of Thrones and Dude, where’s the Seanad? Leo, The Dark World.”
His online etiquette involves a lot of people, giving the idea that he listens to the public and is readily accessible. It also displays the image of transparency that Fine Gael has been plugging since getting elected.
THE DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE: GERRY ADAMS – 6086 likes – 35,703 followers
The Sinn Féin leader took to Twitter with great aplomb earlier this year and his tweets are definitely the strangest of the bunch.
In the early days many of his tweets seemed to be a narrative of the life of his teddy bear; indeed Ted still gets regular mentions. Gerry’s dog Snowie has his own Twitter account with over a thousand followers. Not exactly the normal behaviour of a party leader.
His tweets themselves are a little strange too, a snapshot of just one day includes:
- Nov. 12th “So 2 the leaba. Tom&Ted giving off cos I have neglected them recently. A long day so I am going 2 humour them. Oichey oichey xoxo”
- Nov. 12th “Pilates with jetlag really stretches U! Aaaahhhh”
- Nov. 12th “Tanaiste doing the Twist, the Hucklebuck and the 16 Hand Reel 2day during Leaders Qs but not answering Qs on Youth Unemployment&Emigration.”
Some have suggested that the strange Twitter behaviour is to soften the image of Sinn Féin and Adams with voters, a theory which the party has repeatedly denied. Whatever you may think of the man or his tweets, they have grabbed headlines and he is among the most followed Irish politicians on Twitter.
Irish politicians may not be the most suave in the world but some are using social media to endear themselves to voters. The younger generation have grown up with it and by the time the next election rolls around thousands of Twitter-literates will be eligible to vote. Therefore it is important for politicians to maintain a strong online presence.
Some argue that the presidential election was decided by a tweet, with Sean Gallagher’s hopes dashed in less than 140 characters live on The Frontline. Instances like this show how important social media is important in politics, it will shape elections from here on in. So to those politicians still clinging on to the old days, batten down the hatches and enter the Twittersphere.