Improving interaction

With the explosion of social media,  the 2010 General Election campaign is being touted as the digital election with much campaigning taking place online or through mobile phone applications. We all saw how Obama used Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and numerous other digital tools in his presidential election campaign to increase voter registration and get his message and policies out to the voters. The Organizing for America site continues the online campaign work, encouraging people to get involved and support Obama in fulfilling election promises.

His success means that the election campaigns by all political parties will be dominated by online messages, building upon their digital presence that has been increasing over the last few years. Tweeting the latest campaign message or sending out short films provide quick and easy sound bites, particularly to first-time voters who are well-versed in this form of communication. It also changes the way politicians interact with voters who are increasingly expecting a bit more than the usual one-way messaging.

The Hansard Society’s Digital Citizens and Democratic Participation report looks into how we use the internet to connect with elected representatives and the trends in online digital engagement across civic and political life.

The report details opinions of  people who use the internet and a group of early adopters and shows that these users no longer want passive communications but want to part of the debate. “They want to communicate and to engage, to track and to contribute to the democratic debate and the tools that they want MPs to use are those that engage them directly with people”, says the report.

While increasing the interactions between voters and politicians will provide more engaging debates it will require more time and effort but will also create the potential for mistakes to be broadcast around the world in a matter of seconds after an incident has happened. We all remember the reactions of certain politicians reacting to verbal abuse or egg throwing in the past, caught on camera if journalists just happened to be there. Nowadays a quick picture or film of the incident can be captured on a mobile phone and uploaded to You Tube within a short time. So will this result in too much stage-managed media manipulation or will we really see the politicians’ true colours?

And what we shouldn’t forget is that digital communication is just one option to interact and engage with voters. There’s still plenty of people who prefer face to face meetings with politicians at organised meetings, in shopping centres or on their doorsteps and those who wish to read up on policies or listen to campaign messages through traditional broadcast media. It’s essential that politicians don’t rely on just one method but embrace all options available.

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