Mathew Lowry

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.

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  1. What is a “fact” in a political debate? Just getting the figures right? How do you want the editors to decide when something needs correction and when not?

    If a group of people decides to put a lot of wrong facts in a discussion, should they rebut all of them?

    What I lack in all this is the MEPs: They should be the ones getting involved, not the editors. The editors should be responsible to set up the environment, to do official reporting on institutional events, raising attention for new information etc. All the rest should be done by those whom we have elected to work for us on the European level and who should be running the debate, proving that they know the facts and figures or being corrected by others in a good political fight.

  2. Deciding what to do is always going to be a judgment call – there’s an almost infinite amount of social media out there, so anyone doing any kind of engagement has to learn to prioritise.

    If you run through my comments on Tibo’s blog, you can see that I miss the MEPs in the debate too, and was looking for a way that the officials – particularly in the MEPs’ absence – can join the conversation in a useful way without crossing the lines officials should not cross.

    Rebutting eurocrap would be one way, and might help the S/N ratio a bit.

  3. Hello

    Just wanted to say you have a very interestng and excellent blog. Thank you!

    Ironically came across it on a rather angry, racist blog by the name of centurian something. Brilliant rebuttal you gave. Its harder when the other person makes zero sense. I hope he find some kidn of medication for his chemically imbalanced brain.

    Anyways thank you for such a great blog. continue writing!


  4. hi nimra and thanks for your encouraging comments. l agree that centaurian appears unbalanced. He’s not alone. Noone’s going to change his mind. But maybe his readers are more open.

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