Social media is an excellent way to involve citizens in the political process. By keeping them well-informed and engaged, they will not only be educated about what is happening but also more motivated to want to be a part of it. That means stating their opinions, making their voices heard, and ultimately, turning up at the ballot box.
The Senate of Canada has taken a big leap forward in employing social media as a way of keeping Canadians engaged in the governance of the Red Chamber. In March they partnered with Twitter, an agreement which will see select committee meetings live streamed on Periscope. The Senate also live-tweets events procedural events and votes. And all senators are identified by their Twitter handles.
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This is a significant evolution in the parliamentary process – particularly from an institution typically viewed as being, well, behind the times. Using Twitter allows the Senate to reach out to a younger audience, one who might not know much about what they do or how it may affect their lives. And using a senator’s handle to identify them also gives the public a way to communicate directly with them, automatically making them more personable and approachable. It democratizes the upper chamber which has typically been viewed as the most undemocratic branch of our government.
The next best thing to having our political institutions utilizing social media is having our, well, media use social media. The New York Times has done an excellent job of making their Facebook page a destination for news lovers – not only in the United States, but everywhere.
The NY Times posts stories frequently on their Facebook page and on Twitter, but they also actively involve their followers in story creation. They use their audience as a resource. Often, when covering a topic they will solicit their Facebook followers feedback. For example, if they are writing a story about gender discrimination in the workplace, they will post on their Facebook page asking for people to share their own experiences. They make the news feel less like a reporter-reader relationship and more like a community sharing of information.
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The New York Times also utilizes the Facebook Live platform frequently, for everything from exclusive musical performances to discussions about topical issues. Their weekly discussion series #RaceNYT is a half-hour live broadcast on Facebook that looks at race relations in the US. Often these conversations involve readers sharing their own experiences. The videos are hosted by a New York Times journalist and they take questions from readers in the comments section. They are giving their audience a role to play in the news, not just telling them what is happening.
While there are organizations that are clearly adept at moving the conversation forward using social media, others have not quite caught up. iPoliticsLive is the live journalism branch of iPolitics – an online political news publication based in Ottawa. It provides a new and inventive way to deliver the news to Canadians, but it’s social media outreach certainly needs some work.
In some ways, it is very advanced. iPoliticsLive presents events around a specific issue with a journalist interviewing a panel of experts live in front of an audience. Broadcast free on Facebook Live, the events are available for anyone to watch. They use a new technology called Slido which allows users to enter the event hashtag, ask questions and vote on questions they like. The audience then becomes the interviewer.
Where iPoliticsLive does a poor job of utilizing social media is in promotion for itself. Twitter is used infrequently and then only to live-tweet during events. And Facebook is used only to post links to an upcoming event page on Eventbrite. But they could be doing so much more.
Their social media should be engaging their audience, and reaching out to potential followers who would be interested in their upcoming events. By starting to post more frequently, and asking questions about what new topics should be covered, they will get a better feel for what is important to Canadian citizens.