Mary Murphy writes:
Driving to Dublin recently, I was listening to talk radio. A local councillor was being interviewed about a Facebook course for local representatives taking place in Kerry this weekend –
Facebook for Councillors: a business perspective. The course itself will cost the taxpayer €195 per participant but by the time travel costs and accommodation are added, the bill will run closer to €500 per person.
The politician in question (I didn’t catch his name) was talking of the need for those who serve the public to get with the programme – it was time for them to upskill and become technically competent when it comes to using social networking tools such as Facebook. (Where has he been for the last six years?) He cited an ongoing Facebook campaign in favour of keeping a regional hospital in his constituency open. He spoke with a trace of incredulity of the 7000 people signed up on the page (I know individuals who have 7000+ friends on FB, but the implications of such virtual popularity would take a blog post of their own). He sounded a little awestruck by how easy it was to keep all of these people up to date with who was meeting whom regarding the proposed hospital closure. Imagine… such convenience and expediency! In what was ‘unsaid’ I could almost hear him remembering the leaflet/poster campaigns of yesterday, all that stamp-licking and letter signing, and comparing the two media. Here was a man who seemed to have just realised the importance of social media in communicating with constituents. He seemed chuffed with himself to be attending this training, seeing it as a great step forward; he had great plans for the future once he’d mastered the tools. Perhaps he was already planning to attend a follow-up conference on how to wire a three-pin plug!
Then the country started texting in response… One man in his sixties said it had taken him and his friends just an hour to get the hang of Facebook and if they could do it, anyone could. Another suggested that the councillor ask his children to show him how to use it – sure there isn’t a child in the country over 10 who can’t navigate the daunting water of social networking. A particularly irate texter suggested that the councillors stop wasting taxpayers money – this effort to get with the programme was all a little too late – we’re in the middle of a crisis after all. A texter from the southeast of the country spoke of his local politician as the ‘King of Tweets’, implying that there was no excuse in this day and age for anyone not to be au fait with social networking.
It made the evening papers, too. People’s anger seems to stem from the fact that they see it as a complete waste of money – not because they are missing the value of social networking in communicating with constituents, but because its costing so much unnecessary time and money. It’s not rocket science. If the councillors went to any computer lab in any school in the country and sat for an hour with the students, they could learn all they needed to know about it.
I listened with amusement to it all. It is, after all, 2010. Facebook was launched six years ago. Six years in a politician’s life is a very long time indeed. And they’re only now reacting to it? The voters, on the other hand, seem to be way ahead of the game and have run out of patience with their luddite representatives. And yet they co-exist. The question that’s begging to be asked is why the divergence? Why are the public so far ahead of those who represent them?