Social political engagement

October 2017

Mobile phone and coffeeExisting social media platforms aren’t providing effective political engagement, because they weren’t designed to. BCS has been calling for a purpose-built platform to improve meaningful communication between the public and MPs. James Davies looks at the work to be done.

The way that many of us live our lives online nowadays is naturally spilling over into the way people engage with politics and with politicians. Accompanying the rise of online campaigns, e-petitions and political memes, the internet and social media specifically is shifting the ways in which citizens engage with their elected representatives.

This shift is as fundamental as the one that came with the advent of radio or television. Huge numbers of citizens have taken to social media platforms to communicate with their local MPs, but with wildly varying levels of success. Some MPs try to avoid digital communications altogether. Others struggle to manage the immense volume of direct public engagement made possible by social media channels. Many receive daily abuse or even death threats online.

Soon after being re-elected in June, Conservative MP Ranil Jayawardena let his constituents know he would not be using Twitter anymore, ‘because it has become a platform full of trolls, extremists and worse’, which he felt was producing a climate of fear for his colleagues and his constituents.

Not fit-for-purpose

Social media companies are not the enemy here; the problem is that these platforms received an average of 10,000 messages every day, while others received fewer than five a day. This obviously presents huge potential inconsistencies between MPs’ abilities to respond to members of the public using this medium. Political engagement online is not functioning in a manageable or societally beneficial way.

Joined-up approach

No one party can - or should - be responsible for this, and so BCS and Demos are calling for a cross-party allegiance to work with existing social media platforms to improve their offerings. A solution to the current situation would be a purpose-built platform established to facilitate meaningful and effective political engagement online. BCS and Demos have written to all mainstream political parties asking them to work with us and each other to address the issue.

Online political engagement is here to stay, and questions around how well it is serving our political process will only increase over time. We now have the chance to get ahead; to give proper consideration to how the situation can be improved and make IT better for society.

Read the report


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  • 1
    David wrote on 1st Nov 2017

    I am not convinced MPs really want to engage with the public. There is undoubtedly a belief held by a number of MPs that it their job to make all the decisions and not involve the public in anyway.

    If you look at the petitions that are held on Number 10 website and, the government simply ignores them, or responds in such a way to brush off the concerns off people and continue on their existing path.

    Have you emailed your MP? What happens? Do they respond? One one occasion mine did, on another they didn't.

    How many scenarios can you think off in recent years where laws have been created or existing laws modified as a result of public lobbying? Extremely few, possibly less than 4.

    I don't think MPs use of Twitter was a serious attempt to communicate with the public, I think it was more a case of self promotion, as seems to be the primary purpose of Twitterers.

    Fundamentally there is a problem with the democracy in this country, which is if your views as a member of the public are not in line with the government's thinking, or if the views of the MP are not in line with government thinking, then the issue is ignored.

    I was personally involved in the fight against IR35 all those years ago, we funded a judicial review. Where did that get us?

    Despite all the condemnation at the time by various organisations, it still made it on to the statute. And the predictions it would be unworkable, that it would not raise anyway near as much tax revenue as claimed, all came true.

    The Conservatives promised to review it, which never happened. Instead, they are making it even more draconian by now requiring government agencies hiring contractors to be the ones that make the determination as to whether their contractors fall within its scope, rather than the contractors themselves.

    I don't think anyone can honestly say that IR35 has been a success, yet we still have to endure it.

    What is the point of greater engagement with our MPs when we are simply going to be ignored anyway?


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  • 2
    David Kay wrote on 2nd Nov 2017

    I have to say that every time I've contacted my MP - either by written letter or email - I've had a response within a reasonable timescale.

    The report is interesting but I'm just worried that the data collection exercise was skewed by a major event at that time. It might be worth repeating at another more quieter political time.

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