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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 26, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    A modest proposal

    Harry McGee

    Two stories about blogs in the paper today! What’s gone wrong? Have we flipped?

    One is about the Obama’s web designer; the other about the blogger who was given the full-press treatment by Ryanair’s stormtroopers, who called him a lunatic among other things.It’s timely for this reason.

    I am starting to do research for a longish feature in April about the growth of the influence of web and mobile technology, social networking, youtube, twitter, blogging etc on the world of  politics.The basic premise that I’m starting off with (though I may be proved wrong on this) is that its influence is growing here in Ireland but that we still lag behind other countries (America by a lot; other larger European countries by a little).

    And if you were to apply the power of the new forms of communication to electoral outcomes in Ireland until now, their influence has been marginal.But it’d it make a difference in the Lisbon referendum last year? Can we see big changes in the run-up to the elections and referendum? How have political parties adapted to the change? Have we seen ground-up movements or lobby groups make a difference on the net or through blogging in Ireland?Or are newspapers and TV and billboards still ultimately where things are at in terms of the important political messages?Extraordinary things happen on the blogosphere. And it has served brilliantly as an outlet to let smart and engaged people in society give vent to their views. It’s great for journalists like me to get feedback (and some of it stunningly on-the-pulse); to be put in my place from time to time; to be given a yellow card for holding woolly views to allowing too many typos or to putting lazy assumptions out there). I would appreciate people’s views and would also be grateful for being pointed in particular directions that are interesting, quirky or pioneering. I intend to do the research in a non-traditional method, ie by means of the the media I am writing about. And though the feature will appear in dead wood, I think I’ll chat with the relevant people in the IT to make its presentation a little more expansive… maybe by doing on online special..

    By the way, Genevieve Carbery has a piece on how the party’s websites are gearing up for the local elections in Saturday’s Weekend section.

    • Green Ink says:

      Harry, my nice new link is going to the wrong place.

    • Maith thú Harry. Just one note regarding the Fianna Fáíl and the website story. There are a number of things to note about the Fianna Fáíl website – first of all it was made by an American company at God knows what cost as Fianna Fáíl, with more money than sense, went in search of the Obama magic with a big wallet. Do they not realise a) that the Obama magic can’t be bought and b) that several hundred web design companies in Ireland would have been able to provide them with a website as slick as this is.
      Secondly, the website isn’t entirely slick. The ‘as Gaeilge’ section is not in situ yet. In fact there’s more Polish than Irish on the website. Does this current government not realise that a lot of Poles are leaving Ireland as the recession bites? Has it forgotten its promises re the revitalisation of Irish as a widely spoken tongue by 2028 with 250,000 daily speakers? It may be easy for the government to forget such a rash promise – but Irish speakers might not forget it.

      And finally, I subscribed to their updates and have got my first message from Brian Cowen, An Taoiseach. From his personal email, it appears. A few nights ago I got a personal message from Barack Obama, President of the USA, the most powerful man on earth and Our Saviour. I do feel humbled….these powerful men from Offaly sending emails to a mere Corkman like myself!

    • John says:

      I wrote something about this a year ago – reviewing the impact of the net on the ’07 election’ which may be of some interest:

      With regard to general point, I’ve talked to a lot of elected reps or potential candidates about this over the past year or two. The thing to bear in mind in all of this is that we have a small market here, and the places where the online media have been effective have been the massive political markets (compare a congressional district and a Irish constituency). The value online of sustained activity (the likes of twitter, heavy blogging and so on) is from a party perspective, not from an individual candidate. For the time, cost and effort, the value for local candidates in communicating to the circa 1,000 people they need to get to vote for them in a local election is by direct contact – certainly, they need an online reference point, a good, updated website, but the web won’t be a major factor in that aspect of the election for a long time yet.

      For a party, to sell the brand of the leader, the frontbench and the party itself, online media will potentially be a huge factor, in allowing parties to communicate to the nation – or more likely the opinion formers. For single-point issues, like Lisbon, the impact of the net could be similarly massive. That’s the way I’d reckon the online game will work for Irish politics – strong party presences, and little enough beyond personal websites for each candidate. Other than the high profile people within each party, I don’t think the value is there for most politicians to engage heavily online.

    • Will Knott says:

      Someone once wrote that all politics is local. A politician putting themselves online (on a regular basis) lets his or her constituents see what (s)he is writing (and presumably doing).

      So far, so just the people who live online like bloggers.

      A Tweet-storm/blog-storm aside, journalists work and read from the online world (waves at Harry). If they research something (via search engine) and an Irish politician pops up, that politician will be approached.

      Which puts them in the mainstream flow of attention.

      All from a blog post.

      This may help promote an independent candidate more than a party one, as the party member may have to toe a party line.

      If a candidate is wiling, and not scared of technology, it will help promote his or her profile a little bit more than someone who doesn’t. True its’ not attending local events, but ensuring that your own voice is actually out there to be heard.

    • John says:

      I agree with the theory of it all Will, but I don’t believe it transfers well to reality. Sure, some politicians who blog will get picked up in the national press, but I don’t believe that transfers to local votes.

      For example, Dominic Hannigan had an interesting blog in the run-up to the election. Undoubtedly it improved his profile amongst those online punters who are politically engaged. It got a national media profile, and overall was good for Labour. Those political obsessives like myself were exposed to a young candidate with ideas and as such it probably helped improve in those people’s minds the perception of the Labour party. However, I failed to see this benefit transfer to a local level for Dominic Hannigan. Maybe I have read the runes wrong, but I reckon that Dominic Hannigan would have got more or less the same vote if he didn’t blog. Admittedly, it is probable that in getting elected to the Seanad, the national profile that was created for him over the election (a part of which was the result of his blog) was a major factor.

      The areas that need to be targeted to communicate the message to get elected in Ireland are so small that it is impractical to do it in an intensive way online – which regularly blogging, twittering and all that would entail. Politicians need a website to let people know what they are at, what they are doing and so on – but I don’t see the extra work entailed from agressive interaction online entails paying off, as it does in other countries with significantly different political systems and electoral rules.

      If we had a First-past-the-post electoral system or bigger constituencies, then the more aggresive online efforts would be more important.

      Furthermore, people in Ireland primarily vote for parties on policy grounds not individuals. As such, I think that the main figures in each of the parties should engage online in order to help communicate their party’s political message – allowing effective targeting of the public and opinion makers in pushing the party and its leaderships brand. I think that is how it will develop – but it will take time, as it will require the main figures in each party to balance the cost of the work to themselves personally to the benefit of their party.

    • Braz says:

      Nice topic Harry, to be fair I’m thinking that given the poor understanding of social media by the mainstream parties in Ireland that we are further away from Obama 2.0 than closer to it.

      For a review, I’d point to an 2006 article I wrote on Irish Election,`Looking across the pond: A viewpoint on developments arising from the US Senate and House elections 2006‘. To be fair and I do keep a very close track of developments but I still don’t see how we’re any closer to achieve even this level of public engagement. I know that FF have implemented a new system but from an outsider’s view is it anything but a new theme and the addition of Facebook / Twitter as they already had YouTube. These are still pull communication mechanisms whereas true citizen involvement requires push mechanisms with open dialogue. Excluding boards.ie or politics.ie I don’t see that type of influence creeping into Irish parties as of yet.

      I will admit that perhaps one old (two local elections ago) website I did for a friend still shows that best response is with targeted local issues and areas. FF’s new site is an example of how to ignore Obama 2.0 who had more specific interest groups than you could shake a stick at. It is about clientism or personalisation depending on your level of cynicism.

      Good luck with the article and I’ll see what I can send you direction research wise.

    • Harry says:

      Sorry, I was sick over the weekend – really really sick, not just from being at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis (which I couldn’t get to). So I was unable to do anything except feel mightily sorry for myself. So apologies for delay in coming back and responding to comments.
      Fantastic. A great springboard. Will be in touch with everybody and will keep the channels open for more comment and input.

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