What You Can Get Away With » facebook

Just a short post to let people know that Colchester Liberal Democrats now have our own page on Facebook, which should have plenty of updates and discussion from our council group. If you want to like it and get updates from us, then click here and don’t forget there are also pages for Sir Bob Russell and a certain Cllr Nick Barlow.

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I spent yesterday in London at the first ever Councillor Camp. This wasn’t a group of local government people hanging around in tents and/or pretending to be Kenneth Williams, but a version of BarCamp especially for councillors who wanted to look at ways we could use social media to better carry out our roles. It was organised by the LGIU and Futuregov, and we were very lucky to be hosted by Facebook, who gave us the run of their London training and meeting room, complete with Doctor Who-themed room names.

Unlike most local government events that I get invited to, this was a free event, and rather than having a rigid schedule, it was run as an ‘unconference‘ where most of the sessions and what they covered were determined by the participants, not by some schedule determined in advance. Another key feature of the day was that we were all encouraged to keep electronic devices on throughout the day and so as well as what was happening at the event itself, there was lots of discussion on the #cllrcamp hashtag on Twitter.

The day started with a number of different speakers offering a variety of perspectives on the use of social media in local politics. Again, this differed from normal conferences in that they were only allowed five minutes each to speak, and thus none of the presentations turned into death by PowerPoint. (“Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.”) This meant they had to boil things down to a few key points, which helped to set the tone for the day, rather than telling everyone what to think. Some key points I picked up from those speeches:

  • Brighton and Hove Council created their own Twitter hashtag – #bhbudget – to promote online discussion of their budget, and councillors were active participants in the online debate, which did feed concrete proposals into the budget
  • Denmark’s tax authorities use their online presence to post details and pictures of what people’s taxes are used for
  • “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” “Your residents are human, so be human.” Politicians need to be on social media as themselves, not constructing a separate online personality.
  • After those brief talks, we were into the main meat of the day, with people filling out a huge number of post-it that were then collated together into a grid of different sessions, where we could talk about what we wanted to. These discussion sessions were, for me, more useful than breakout sessions at other events. Again, there was no sitting round watching one person PowerPoint us to death, and the fact that people had come to a session because they wanted to be there and had chosen the topic meant people were much more willing to participate.

    (And in itself, letting people define the terms of their engagement and interaction, not having it rigidly imposed from on high is something local government could and should learn to do)

    I could go on for ages, but some of the thoughts I’ve had from Councillor Camp are likely going to generate posts in themselves over the weeks to come, but here are some of the key points for me:

  • Engaging in social media means giving up some control – councils and councillors can create and start discussions, but can’t determine where it goes after that.
  • There has to be more work done to get more people involved and online, so the discussion isn’t just amongst the most savvy.
  • Any social media strategy has to be capable of evolving to recognise the growth of new networks and platforms.
  • A new generation is coming through who see being online and involved in social media as entirely natural and integral to their lives, not an added extra (see this quote fromDouglas Adams). That councillors are generally much older than the population they represent could create issues here.
  • The effectiveness of your social media presence is linked to authenticity – people expect you to be yourself and respond as such, not a programmed drone.
  • Interactivity is expected, not an added-extra. People will expect to interact with the social media presence of councils and councillors and get a meaningful response.
  • There’s more to come – and some of it might link with the thoughts I’ve had after reading The Political Brain this week – but overall Councillor Camp was a great experience, and I’d recommend any follow up and repeat events to other councillors, especially those who aren’t as engaged online and want to discover how to go further. One idea suggested was the potential for regional events, to get more people involved in a more convenient location – anyone fancy a Councillor Camp East?

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    For my ‘official’ Facebook page, which now has an easily memorable address: www.facebook.com/nickbarlowcolchester

    It’s where I’ll try and post things that are relevant to my work as a councillor, rather than the general theme of this blog which tends to revolve around whatever shiny thing is grabbing my magpie-like attention at the time. I have neglected updates to the Facebook page for a while, but I will endeavour to post as much as I can to the page, to try and keep people informed, so if you’re interested in my work as a councillor, then go along and like it.

    I will still keep up the council-related blog posts here, though, so you won’t miss them.

    Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease – I’m shocked – shocked, I tell you – to discover that something James Delingpole and other contrarian trolls believe in has no evidence to back it up.
    10 myths of the UK’s far right – Daniel Trilling in the Guardian outlines some widely-repeated opinions about the BNP and their ilk that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.
    Facebook friends network ‘quadruples voting behaviour’ – Interesting study in the US about different online prompts and how they increase the likelihood of someone voting – the original paper it’s based on is here.
    English Baccalaureate – questions outstanding – Stephen Williams MP shows that not all Lib Dem MPs have drunk the Govite Kool-Aid.
    The Myth of the European Court of Human Rights’ “War on Britain” – Very good piece by Alex Massie. Worth passing on to any nutters of your acquaintance (some of whom appear to be in the Cabinet, sadly) who advocate Britain withdrawing from/ignoring the ECHR

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    None of these links were placed here by small grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli. That must be true, the Men In Black told me so.

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen – Flying Rodent imagines an Orwellian version of the Scottish Premier League.
    Facebook Social Readers Are All Collapsing – Oh, please let them go away. Clicking on an interesting-looking link only to discover a screen demanding you sign up to share your reading habits before you’re allowed to read it is bloody annoying.
    Walking is political – An extract from Will Self’s inaugural lecture as Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University.
    How Germany’s Pirate Party is hacking politics – Some silly errors in this (seemingly thinking the 15 seats won in Berlin were elected by FPTP, not list seats under AMS) but still interesting, and a good explanation of the Liquid Feedback system, which interests me (and I may blog about in more detail later).
    Do normal people go into politics anymore? – Another interesting post from Jason O’Mahony on the difference between the political classes and the rest of the world.

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    Fifteen albums

    So, there’s a meme going round Facebook, LiveJournal and various other places that for once doesn’t seem to be a way to get you to answer questions that might give away the security information for your bank account.

    The Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you’ve heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what albums my friends choose.

    So, as it’s a quick way to get some content on here, my fifteen are:
    Matthew Sweet: Girlfriend
    Manic Street Preachers: Generation Terrorists
    Guns’n’Roses: Appetite For Destruction
    Frank Zappa: Broadway The Hard Way
    Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band: The Rising
    Doves: The Last Broadcast
    Julian Cope: Jehovahkill
    Alabama 3: Exile on Coldharbour Lane
    Warrior Soul: Drugs, God and the New Republic
    Pulp: This is Hardcore
    Sugar: Copper Blue
    Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here
    Roger Waters: Amused to Death
    REM: Out of Time
    Pearl Jam: Vs

    As I’m now supposed to tag other people to do this, I hereby tag you unless you think fifteen other people reading this have done it already.

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    I’m still not quite sure what part of today I’ve found the strangest – the news that Marmite are suing the BNP over a Party Political Broadcast, that Iain Dale wrote a post deploring the personal attacks on Nick Clegg, or the fact that a brief conversation between me and Justin on Twitter spawned a globe-spanning meme. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time a first-thing-in-the-morning off-hand comment of mine has ended up inspiring a song.

    Before I forget to recommend it, some other stuff worth reading out there on the internets from Steph Ashley and Alix Mortimer.

    I suppose today is the day where I can excuse my lack of activity on the local campaign by claiming I was focusing on the national/internet campaign. What I’ve found interesting during this campaign is that the party do seem to have finally understood internet campaigning and not tried to interfere with spontaneous internet uprisings. For example the people who created and turned the Rage Against The Machine Facebook group into such a phenomenon (it now has a membership almost double the party’s) have been allowed to get on with it in their own way. They’ve been given advice and support from the party when it’s been asked for – though even that’s mostly been crowdsourced – but there’s been no one from Cowley Street trying to muscle in and insist that they must do it a certain way.

    There’s definitely something happening during this election as the rules change around us. Someone mentioned to me this morning that they’d heard someone – we think it was UKIP or the English Democrats – travelling around the streets in a car with a PA on it. That’s something that probably seemed like an incredible innovation 80 or 90 years, was a staple of campaigning in the 70s, but is now almost entirely gone from campaigns. Could elections in 10 or 20 years time see all the attention paid to Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups while everyone wonders why they don’t get scores of leaflets through their doors anymore?

    (Quick thought: I wonder if anyone’s studied what happens to domestic paper recycling rates and amounts during election campaigns?)

    On that note, I can’t remember if I’ve linked to David Yelland’s excellent Guardian article yet: Nick Clegg’s rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics. If you want to know why certain parts of the press are going so over-the-top in their attacks on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, it’s a good start in explaining why, as is this Michael Wollf piece. Plus, Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News speculates about just what senior News International executives were doing in the office block that the Independent shares with the Daily Mail.

    Back to party politics, though, and I wonder if this decentralisation of campaigning might lead to a whole new way of organising political parties in the UK? Does the traditional membership model really work when you don’t need to jump through committee hoops to run your campaign, you just need to start a Facebook group or come up with a Twitter hashtag and see who rallies around. Ken MacLeod discussed some of these changes in his Morning Star interview this week, and even though he’s coming at it from the perspective of the Left, there are similarities:

    MacLeod’s analysis of far-left movements is far from uncritical. He points out that left-wing movements have been slow to embrace new technologies, in part because the internet “challenges a set of Leninist assumptions that a lot of far-left groups had about how discussions must and should be conducted.

    “A lot of the formal rules of the left are still based on 19th-century communications technology – the idea that revolutionary politics are built around a top-level party line set down by a newspaper, which everyone has to agree with. The internet negates that process,” he says, adding hastily that “the Star has a head start, in that it allows in voices from outside the party.”

    Probably something for more thought after the election, though.

    One other thing that’s been on my mind today is A Very British Coup. I caught a bit of it a few weeks ago when Yesterday were repeating it, and am glad to discover that Channel 4 have made the whole thing available on YouTube and 4OD. In AVBC, the establishment and the press attempt to bring down a radical Prime Minister who rises to power after a major scandal in the City, and I’m wondering if Chris Mullin was being optimistic in assuming the press would wait until after Harry Perkins was in office.

    Right, that’s all for now – did deliver 40 letters for the campaign this morning, taking the total there to 2,410, and am down to quite a bit of canvassing tomorrow to boost the figure there quite a lot. More commentary after tonight’s debate, when I’m fully expecting Gordon Brown to tell us he’s been reading the Twitter and discovered it’s all Nick Clegg’s fault.

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