Talk to Enda Kenny’s hand, because the Facebook ain’t listening

The Taoiseach’s not much of a social-media person, but someone had the great idea that he should do a Facebook Q&A while visiting the company in California. The results were predictably noncommittal

Last post: Enda Kenny’s abandoned Twitter page

Last post: Enda Kenny’s abandoned Twitter page

Sat, Jun 7, 2014, 01:00

I once met Enda Kenny, and the impression I was left with was of his palmprint suffocating mine. It is common for politicians or celebrities to have weak handshakes, developed as a defence mechanism to ensure a quick getaway for their hands. Not the Taoiseach’s. It was so lengthy that it could be broken into distinct stages: first, a reciprocation of the warmth that lay in its firmness; then a discomfort as the leader of my country held on to my hand as if it were that of a two-year-old intent on running across a busy road. This was followed by a panicked sense of entrapment, a fear that he might never let go. And its final stage was a sort of Stockholm syndrome in which my hand had become so comfortable in the care of the Taoiseach’s that when he finally released it – after secret negotiations between intermediaries and an exchange on a quiet Border road – I actually missed the handshake greatly.

Across Facebook’s Californian headquarters on Thursday, soft techie hands must have been squeezed like play dough during Kenny’s visit. That’s the bit you can imagine the Taoiseach would have enjoyed: the glad-handing, the old-school meet-and-greets at the nerve centre of an industry that lets a person direct the ebb and flow of their relationships as though it’s an exercise in air-traffic control.

But somebody had an idea. Somebody always has to have an idea. This one was for a Q&A on Facebook. Invite questions through the Taoiseach’s official Facebook page, to which he would respond while on his visit to the company’s HQ. It is a beautiful idea. Modern yet personal. A perfect synergy of political opportunism, social-media angles and PR needs. It was never going to be anything other than painful.

“I want to hear your questions on trade, investment and job creation . . . I look forward to it!” the Taoiseach said on his page. Or maybe someone said it on his behalf, perhaps at the last minute deciding against ending with “smiley face, smiley face, xxx”.

The people behind this idea would have been fully aware of its pitfalls before going into it. On Kenny’s page are the “house rules” of his Facebook page, which warn against “comments containing obscene language . . . that could be considered defamatory . . . containing personal insults to party members, staff or other posters”.

All of which, naturally, aren’t just routinely ignored by online commenters but treated as suggested approaches. There were digs about JobBridge, medical cards, Irish Water, the Tuam baby grave story, banking debt.

But it wasn’t about the questions. The Facebook Q&A was about sucking up. Sucking up the insults and barbs and occasional craziness, then sucking the on-message questions from the mire and putting them to Kenny. So that ultimately he could suck up to Facebook.

You don’t get the sense that Enda Kenny is a big one for social media. He gave up on Twitter three years ago, or at least the person who was responsible for managing his Twitter posts brought a halt to the robotic posts that studiously avoided any personal interaction. All that remains of it now are those relics of perfunctory tweets, underneath a picture of Enda Kenny at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2013 in which he is flanked by the Italian, Danish and Dutch prime ministers. In its composition it resembles Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. But adding it to the account 18 months after Kenny’s last tweet is like hanging a painting in an abandoned shed.

That same picture tops his Facebook page. For his Q&A he added a picture of himself at Facebook HQ, in front a sticker-laden laptop. In the end he answered just six questions out of 600 – although, to be fair, many of those “questions” were complaints, rants, insults and helpful suggestions that he might wish to “free the weed!”

“Sorry I couldn’t deal with them all due to time pressures,” the Taoiseach signed off, surely not in the least bit sorry. Off he went, presumably to shake as many real hands as possible.

It had been a PR sufferance. It had been a tribute to the Facebook gods. It had been like trying to have a conversation with one person while ignoring the hundreds of others pelting him with pea- shooters. shegarty@irishtimes.com @shanehegarty

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.