In September last year I wondered whether 2010 would be the year when someone poisoned the well for the use of social media by the EU (here and here). In the last few weeks I’ve been mentally preparing an update post, as it didn’t really look like it was going to happen.
So is the #euco twitter wall kerfuffle (see Jon Worth’s post) it?
Update: plus Eurogoblin’s views
I’m just guessing here, but I think (and hope) not – at least, not in the way most people may assume.
On the face of it, there are probably more public servants operating in the higher echelons of the EU Institutions who are now less likely to be open to social media. You simply cannot blame these people for being risk-averse. It’s their job to organise summits smoothly and to ensure none of the participants lose face. By this logic, there are probably now a few more people for whom social media and the EU are poisoned.
But a twitter wall at a EU council is not a good way of using social media, so this is (hopefully) not a huge problem.
Why? Let’s break this down into two statements.
Is this useful?
Does anyone really think that EU leaders, as they do whatever it is they do at these events, are going to be glancing at a Twitter stream for policy ideas, guidance, spiritual enlightenment …? Really?
Certainly, looking at the stream, few of the people Tweeting did.
People aren’t idiots. They know they won’t have any constructive influence via Twitter, and – moreover – they’d also probably agree that they shouldn’t. Democracy doesn’t work like that.
If someone is not expecting their constructive contributions to be taken seriously, then their contribution will not be constructive, nor serious. Quite the opposite (destructive, flippant, sarcastic …).
[BTW: I deeply loathe Berlusconi and loved the hijack]
Does it matter?
So why is this hopefully no more than a storm in a teacup?
Well, just because a Twitter wall is not useful for a Council meeting doesn’t mean that social media is not useful for the EU. There are a hundred ways social media can be used constructively for the EU.
Crowdsourcing, however, is at the harder end of the spectrum: it takes real resources and requires very special conditions. Moreover, those conditions are found at the exact opposite end from high-profile events like Council meetings.
Good crowdsourding requires, among other things:
- small numbers of highly committed people (anyone on Twitter could get onto the Wall)
- dedicated online community management (there was no tweet moderation)
- the expectation that contributions will be taken seriously (see above, and below for more)
- and a resulting high signal/noise ratio (Much Ado About Silvio, & very little about the EU)
So while this episode may set back the use of social media where it won’t help much, it won’t hurt it where it can make a real contribution. Hopefully.
Losing our trust
Jon’s post references Clay Shirky talking about the failure of President Obama’s Change.gov.
… there was a lack of a credible bargain – there was no realistic assumption on either side that the ideas would be implemented, so an organised group lacking a voice in traditional American politics settings gamed the system to their advantage for publicity purposes.
– The need for a credible bargain … – Jon Worth
Just substitute ‘Italian’ for ‘American’ and you could be talking about the Twitter wall.
Interestingly, last year in Creating trust by example, I also reference Clay Shirky talking about Obama … but talking about Candidate Obama’s successful use of crowdsourcing, before his election.
Usually failure is followed by success, not the other way around! Moreover, we’re talking essentially about the same crowdsourcong effort – the only difference was that the Candidate had become President.
Perhaps it’s because candidates can credibly claim to be listening to ideas, but it’s a lot harder for a government to convince us that they’re really listening. They, after all, are already in power. And we are very, very cynical.
Without that crediblity, any crowdsourcing effort is doomed. Which would imply that crowdsourcing is most effectively used by those not (yet) in power. Ouch.
Update: All we need is … Buzz?
Eurogoblin, on the other hand, suggests
… the Council’s press team … need to figure out what went right. How is it they got so many people interested in their Twitter experiment? Rather than just improving their moderation, the Council’s press team needs to think how best they can tap into that chaotic, exciting, out-of-control buzz they managed to achieve …
– EU Twitter Wall Hijacked by Anti-Berlusconi Protesters, Eurogoblin
My post, above, is predicated on the idea that using social media is about more than creating a ‘buzz’. The signal-to-noise in any buzz is generally low, and that was certainly the case on this Twitter wall.
Future Twitter walls at Council events – if they happen at all – will attract more of the same sort of contributions (except Cameron to be dogged by Eurosceptics). Moreover, the walls will almost certainly be moderated, which will infuriate people even more, generating even lower S/N in a vicious spiral.
So if all we want is buzz surrounding an EU event, then you could argue that the twitter wall was a great success! But if the goal was to improve understanding of what is going on at the EU level, and even get some useful ideas, then this is probably not the right direction to take …Mathew Lowry