Social media – an essential tool for politicians

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‘Social media matters’, argues Councillor Julie MacKenzie in response to an article in last week’s Oban Times about using web tools to speak with elected members.

In recent weeks there has been much local debate on the topic of social media and specifically how you use it to put forward your views on the issues that matter to all of us who live in the area.

This is a polarised debate – there are always two sides to everything, so I guess it is about perspective and how you perceive social media.

In my role as a councillor, social media is all about me being accessible and accountable to you.

It is a major tool in my kit which enables me to engage effectively with you on a one-to-one basis.

A conversation on Twitter certainly doesn’t take away from the face-to-face contact that comes on the doorstep or in a surgery, but it does provide an excellent method of quick communication and interaction.

Social media assists me in being a better elected member because, let’s face it, that’s exactly what doing this job should be all about.

Social media platforms provide a great place for healthy and sometimes heated debate. In my ward I’m often alerted to topical issues far quicker via this medium than any other.

It proves really useful as it enables me quickly to see a variety of viewpoints and engage in conversations, which can really help when it comes to gauging public opinion and arriving at a balanced view. The Scottish Government actively promotes social media as an essential tool for community engagement, and community councils are being encouraged to use social media to better effect.

Last week I held a surgery in Oban and not one person turned up. I know that’s not because folk don’t have issues that need resolving, because on the same day I had six people contact me directly through Facebook Messenger and Twitter.

This only serves to highlight that there is no reason why in today’s modern and tech-savvy world you shouldn’t be able to contact your local elected member via a social network.

It’s accessible to all, quick, easy and fits around your day. And, for anyone who may not be able to get to an appointment, it can be an absolute lifeline.

There is, however, also a dark side and I’ve experienced this in the form of online abuse.

On the day I was told I’d been selected to stand for my party locally as a candidate, amid the congratulations came an important warning from a senior party figure to ‘buckle up your flak jacket’.

I now know exactly what he meant. As a politician, you will never please all of the people all of the time. However, that said, there is a big difference between engaging online with your local councillor and abusing and harassing them.

We are all human at the end of the day. No-one is perfect and we all make mistakes. I try very hard never to say anything on social media that I wouldn’t say out loud.

Social media matters but please bear this in mind: hold your councillor to account absolutely but please also be kind.