Social media are transforming our world and the way we communicate. More and more Swiss people are using Twitter and Facebook: nearly 40% of the Swiss population is on Facebook (3,019,940 swiss users)! Around the world, politiciens are using those plateforms to communicate with citizens. The swiss politicians, even if they aren’t the most assiduous, are no exception to the rule. Do they really notice the impact of social media? How do they use these sites? Is it of any good for the democracy? What are the risks?
Electoral interests or how to reach the young people.
Most Swiss politicians think that the impact of social medias on elections or votes is very little. However, they use them mostly during those periods. Some politicians even neglect them completely when there are no electoral terms. What is certain is that social medias are a useful tool to reach specific citizens:
Liliane Maury-Pasquier in the interview that she gave at MAJ consulting, dans le car de DMI© politique genevoise, a study on the usage of Social Media by the Geneva’s politicians.
It is a known fact that most social medias users are young and that they aren’t the most fervent voters. Here is a chart on the swiss Facebook users according to their age category (from socialbakers.com):
As rough guide, let’s take a look at the age of the voters, on march 2012 in Geneva:
Aware of that phenomenon many political parties (Liberal-Radical, Socialiste, etc) encourage their members to use those platforms. The UDC, a right wing nationalist party, even propose lessons on how use of social media … Maybe because it faced allready some problems with it. (We will see that in the last section.)
Personnaly, I don’t know if using the social medias is going to change anything: people mostly use Facebook and Twitters to look up things that they are already interested in. That’s even more the case, when we see how the use those plateforms.
The Upheaval of the Top-Down
Almost every Swiss politicians has a Facebook or/and Twitter account, but very little use it well – by respecting the potentialities offered and the new paradigm that those new medias imply. Most of them treat those plateforms as they would the old medias: they tweet or post on Facebook in the same way as they would speak on the radio – i.e. without any interaction or dialogue with the public. This way is called TOP-DOWN. What the politicians have to understand is the redifining of the link with the readers, who aren’t passive anymore. Top-down scheme is over, time for the horisontalisation!
The MAJ consulting study talks a lot about this flaw: “Geneva’s politicians considere the new medias moslty as a marketing tool. They are interested in self-promotion (…). There is almost no interaction with the public.” A easy way to see that is the few questions or survey that the politicians post. They usually don’t take part in the discussion that take place in the comments section.
Again, a paradox: When asked for the reason why they use Facebook, the swiss politicians emphasize on the close link created with the public, the possibility to acquaint with citizens concerns and points, to debate and convince. Pretty hard to do with no exchange at all…
There are some exceptions, usually from the part of the young politicians. Philippe Nantermod (vice-presidentof the young PLR) participate to discussion, initiates debates and answers gladly to the readers questions. Olga Baranova (member of the socialist party) goes a step further in taking advices and ideas from those social medias to contribute to her political speeches and positioning.
Almost no tweet
Swiss politicians don’t use much Twitter. As a sign of this disinterest, a look at the Swiss Federal Council: if every member of the council has a Facebook account (part of Ueli Maurer), only one of them has an active Twitter account. Yet this micro-blogging plateform have a real benefit: diffuse your views and opinions, your agenda and your thought in real-time. Some swiss politicians use it all the same. An easy way to see their publications is the @Politiker list on Twitter, which collects all their tweets:
A probable reason why Twitter is a put aside, is the time-consuming aspect of the social medias. Ada Mara (Socialist Party) told me that she spent two hours a day on them!
Social Media, a Good for Democracy?
With the Web 2.0, everyone has a voice: the monopoly of big media companies and journalists in the gate-keeping and agenda-setting is over. As we have seen, social-medias allow a new way of communication and exchange of information between politciens and citizens. Politicians aren’t on their pulpits anymore, they come down the stage, close to the people. With that, they have to accept to be played up, to answer embarassing or disturbing questions: in a word, they have to accept the new transparency criteria.
We can bet on the fact that it’s going to have a big impact on how politics do their job. Maybe soon, as René Tregouet claimed (in a study called Des pyramides de pouvoir au réseaux de savoir), the member of parliament will have to conduct survey on the Internet, before taking any major decision.
An exemple of this happend during the last election in the Canton of Vaud, where three you candidates presented themselves as Wikicrates: if elected, they promessed to vote in the “Grand Conseil” (Executive of the Canton) as the people would have ask them to on social medias. They didnt’ get elected, but this shows how the politics may change in it’s very function.
Social Media and Politics, what Risks?
First, there is a risk of losing the distinction between private and public life. Old school politicians tend to maintain this distinction, as Antonio hodgers (Ecologist Party) who cleaned up his Facebook page when he decided to use in a political purpose. Philippe Nantermod, as for him, told me that he liked mixing up his political and private life, that for him it didn’t make sense to isolate one from the other. (Is this distinction important to you?)
The risk is that the personality of a politician counts more that his ideas. The same goes for the instrumentalization of this image in order to win election, as we may see in the US. For me, that’s a really big issue. Another aspect is to reduce political topics to “small sentences”, especially on Twitter. It is very difficult to have a complex discussion on that type of media, cause you down want your public to get bored.
This video from Nouvo (RTS, novembre 22nd 2010), talks about the possible manipulation which can occure on the social medias:
It’s a fact that the new social medias will to change the way we mesure and practice democracy. As for now, the majority of Swiss politicians didn’t realize the potential upheaval implied: they use mostly those plateforms to promote themselves, instead of using them as a new way to dialogue with their constituents and the citizens in general.
In the future, we’ll see if the good contributions of those plateforms will supplant the risks and downsides. And you, what do you think, are Facebook and Twitter a good way to improve democracy? Would you vote for a Wikicrate?
(1. My article was focusing on the swiss politicians and the way they use social medias. You can find a really interesting study on the swiss political parties and the way they use social medias on this site: http://www.virtua-marketing.com/wp-content/uploads/Etude-Partis-Politiques-sur-Facebook_2012.pdf)
Appendixe: twitter and facebook gaffes.
To finish, let’s take a look at two gaffes that costed their job and politicial afiliation to two UDC politicians…
Sepi Spiess, talking about a moldavian thief who got killed by the police: ” I was really happy to learn that. That’s how it should go. We ought to shoot them, so they don’t cost us anything. The foreigners make fun of us and our laws. ”
You are warned, if you are mean, drunk or pissed off, think twice before tweeting!
By Alan Monnat