Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Politicians Tweet Insignificancy and then along Comes Miller

Ever since Howard Dean showed internet flair, US politicians have been stampeding in his footsteps to use the online world to their advantage. Canadian politicians belatedly and pathetically followed.

In the last federal election, all the leaders signed up to Twitter, and I promptly started following them. I hadn't been on Twitter all that long myself, but had learnt how to use it by then and was enjoying the tweets in my feed. I wasn't sure what to expect from the politicians, but certainly not the dreck that appeared on my Twitter Home page.

Here are politicians, people versed in communications, who talk ceaselessly every day, who in their early days wrote their own speeches, and in their glory days on the national stage practice and present speech after speech, and they can't tweet to save their lives. In fact, the serious leaders, white men who look like they feel they're above the trendy online world, delegated it to minions, who you could almost see thinking I-can't-believe-I-volunteered-for-the-big-leagues-only-to-write-for-Twitter. They whipped off the most basic tweets imaginable, ones with no substance, no humour, nothing but going here, doing this, prattling the party line stuff. Like, I could read the paper for that!

Green Party Elizabeth May's personality came through in her tweets, so I assumed she wrote her own. But they were few and far between, didn't give us information before the media (one big advantage of Twitter to anyone making news), and were not much different from our big-league vaunted leaders.

And then along came David Miller, Mayor of Toronto. Now I hate this guy. I really loathe him as the mayor of my city. I think he's done an awful lot to keep it dirty and missed opportunities of real leadership. But being a political junkie, when I saw he was on Twitter, I promptly followed. Problem is how can you continue to despise someone when they know how to use the service with humour, personal touches, and substance? You can't!

Miller has grasped the fact that Twitter offers direct communication to the masses. He knows Toronto is one of the most tweet-infested cities on the planet. He gets that 140 characters doesn't mean automatic sound bites of insignificancy that only mirror what appears in the media. It means that you have to learn to say an awful lot in a few words; it means that as a politician you want to communicate with those you lead; it means telling people stuff they may not otherwise know.

That of course is Prime Minister Stephen Harper's problem. He's shown greater interest in talking to Americans than to the citizens of his own country, the one he leads. (He has a great home-y photo on Twitter, but his tweets sound like an accounting textbook.) Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff is plain boring, but it's a good way to keep people from discovering just how weak he is. NDP Leader Jack Layton is conspicuous by his absence. A man who talks about working families non-stop doesn't realise lots are on the Net and would like to hear his direct un-media-censored views. FakeJackLayton is much more entertaining than Layton himself. And Green Party Elizabeth May is inexplicably missing an opportunity to up her profile by tweeting regularly. Having her party so close to winning seats in two ridings, you'd think she'd ride that wave onto the Net.

I recently started following Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader for the Ontario party. She seemed to get it a bit better than the national politicians, but she doesn't tweet all that often, which means she doesn't keep herself and her movements front and centre, unlike Miller.

Now Miller is cementing his hold on power by using Twitter to humanize himself, something he can't do through the media, and ease people to his side, especially those who don't like him and want him gone, like me.

To potential Toronto Mayoralty candidates: you better get a bloody clue and learn to use Twitter, Facebook, and your own website with wit, wisdom, and substance. Otherwise Miller will tweet all over you.

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1 comment:

Canadaka said...

Check out http://politwitter.ca/ to follow all the Canadian MPs and MLAs using twitter.