Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, told audiences at The Hay Festival that social media was a test of authenticity in politicians.
Roberts made her comments at The Internet and The New Constituences, a festival event where she spoke alongside Conservative MP Jesse Norman and Labour activist David Prescott, chaired by BBC’s Nik Gowing with four MP’s in the audience. Asked how she believed social media had changed political discourse in the UK she said: ‘The premium that social media puts on politicians interaction that hasn’t been there before is humour… Boris Johnson is good at this, so is Andy Burnham. Unfortunately a lot of politicians are scared of humour.’
She also warned that the greatest barrier holding politicians back from making greater use of social media and humour when engaging with voters was the mainstream media. As an example she cited ‘Biscuitgate’, where Gordon Brown was ridiculed in the press after a Mumsnet chat during which he couldn’t name his favourite biscuit. She argued that the way newspapers mediated the interactions that take place between politicians and voters online in their reporting was misleading and unhelpful. She said: ”They [the mainstream media] can have their way with it, but it isn’t always a true and fair representation.”
But Jesse Norman, member of parliament for the constituency of Hereford and South Herefordshire just over the border, said it was not only the mainstream media that was to blame.
‘The most obvious change has been the phenomenon of people getting monstered on twitter and social media and I think that’s quite a damaging development because it does shut down exchange,’ he said.
David Powers emphasised the importance of social media as a tool for listening to the electorate, even if, as Justine Roberts pointed out you often have to listen to unpleasant things.
The panel debated social media was a useful tool to ‘collect and organise’ which stops traditional media and parties having all the power.