MPs are just as hooked on social media as everyone else, and that means a new and very direct channel of communication has opened up between government and governed. Is that a good thing, especially at a time when British politics has become so charged-up by Brexit? Prospect, in partnership with Vuelio, brought together a panel of experts at Conservative party conference to discuss that question.
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport said that, “social media has changed the relationship between MPs, the constituents and the public.” “The ability to communicate has enormous positives,” she said, but “we all know about the negative, the abuse.” That negative side is, she said, driven in part by the “very febrile and volatile atmosphere,” in which we live. Social media can intensify the bad feeling.
“We have to remind ourselves that the whole of the public is not represented by Twitter,” she said. “It’s very possible to think everybody’s obsessed with an issue just because people are talking about it on Twitter.” It’s important to remember the “huge number of people in the middle who aren’t thinking about Brexit…” and who are worrying about other things. Social media bombast “drowns out the people who want to contact me to ask for my help.”
Damian Collins, chair of the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee, described the “swirling noise of the social media landscape,” some of which, he said, was driven by “orchestrated networks of often fake accounts.” This upsurge of misleading and negative news, he said, was “coarsening the public debate,” and is “a threat to our democracy—and we should not accept it.”
The malicious creation of false information is highly damaging for the political process. “Citizens have to be informed in order to place their vote,” he said. Disinformation undermines this, and “citizens should be given tools to identify sources of unreliable information.” There should be cautions on unreliable sources, he said, especially now that half of people in this country get news via social media.