January 19, 2010
I recently joined Tibo’s conversation on the Parliament’s Writing for (y)EU – see Not the 8 o’clock news – but my latest comment grew so long I decided to put it here instead. And then, typically, it grew …
In Tibo’s original post and subsequent comments, he explored how far EP officials can go in “engaging in the conversation” while “constrained by [their] position as officials”. It’s a tough call – on the one hand, the institutions’ websites have to provide the unadorned facts, stripped of party positions and indeed human interest. As Tibo puts it,
“try to describe a soccer game with no adjectives, no personal judgement, and no discrimination amongst 22 players even if some didn’t touch the ball … This is cramping. This is what we do.”
We feel for you! But someone has to provide the bedrock documents – the facts – for any discussion to really get anywhere interesting. In fact, you can tell when the parties in a debate don’t accept any common bedrock for their discussion when Godwin’s Law, or something like it, rears its ugly head.
On the other hand, Tibo and his colleagues are tasked with exploring social media for the EP – a media where it often appears that few people let anything as dull as The Facts get in the way of a good story (although old media are often worse).
How to engage with people via social media while staying incredibly, dully neutral, factual and fair? Now there’s a conundrum. Providing ‘The Facts’, in itself, only involves Web1.0.
Tibo mentioned “making social media a channel for communication between our fans and MEPs”, but while MEPs are less constrained by institutional rules, they are constrained by party rules, and aren’t exactly setting the Euroblogosphere on fire with startling and provocative insights. Providing a Web2.0 channel to MEPs seems a bit pointless if the MEP is not interested, and unnecessary if he is.
Nevertheless, Tibo sees a role for them as “facilitators, moderators, guarantors”. This reminds me of my rather old and tongue-in-cheek vacancy notice for an EU online community manager, but for me the real role that has to be performed to increase the dismal signal-to-noise ratio in online EU debates is a rebuttal service.
So maybe Tibo and co can do a social media version of the EC’s Get your facts straight: set out the facts, but rather than hiding them on EUROPA, put them in front of people, right into their conversations? It’s still about the facts, but it’s also engagement.