Two months ago, Michael Ignatieff joined Twitter. Under his biography, he clearly stated his objective: Michael Ignatieff for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Over five weeks, he updated fifteen times (“Is energized by the crowd last night – what a great way to start a week. Off to Ottawa today,” he wrote on November 24) and accumulated 754 followers.
According to Twitterholic, Iggy is doing alright, ranked 52nd in Toronto based on the number of followers. Overall, however, he’s got some catching up to do: he’s ranked 10,700th on the site. Stephen Harper is 1,999th, with just under two thousand followers—although to be fair Harper did join sixteen months before Ignatieff. King of the Canadian Hill, even without a coalition, is Jack Layton with 2,058 followers, and Layton joined only six months ago. It’s obvious where Iggy’s not following through. Harper has been on Twitter significantly longer and Layton is a beast at updating, out-typing Harper by 60%, Iggy by 1000%.
Luckily, the leader of the Liberals has got down the chummy, spontaneous-ish format of Twitter messages (“feels privileged to count on Bob’s support. Tous ensemble!”). There isn’t, however, a feel for who Iggy is as an individual, and a sense of relationship is the point of social media. In fact, to find a pol who uses Twitter as more than an events listing, you have to look to Gilles Duceppe and Elizabeth May for actual replies to their readers.
Perhaps, Iggy, Harper, and Layton (or their advisors, or surrogates, or twentysomething Twitterkind) don’t want to appear too informal. Twitter can be an important tool, but it isn’t overly serious. And at a time like this, we want our politicians acting serious: fixing the economy, working on foreign policy to create more global stability, and enacting energy policies that reward efficiency and reduce the damage on the planet. Does anyone care that Jack notices “there is even snow in Vancouver and Victoria!!!”?
As well, the real-time nature of Twitter does apply a lot of stress on candidates. Could there be a pissing contest to see who can react to news the fastest? Might people relentlessly dissect what’s being said—especially when it’s as easy as going to Twitter’s search site? Indeed, Twitter messages can become 140 highly scrutinized characters.
Still, enough people in Toronto use Twitter to share links, pictures, and, most importantly, ideas, that the way political parties interact with citizens can and must change. Torontonians are already talking about and discussing how to change politics without the help of political leaders. The launch of a party spokesperson, like LiberalHQ, is interesting, although so far LiberalHQ doesn’t fall far from the tree: it is the same lumbering, way-off-the-mark use of social media seen during the election. (Sample tepid post: “Call to action: www.liberal.ca”)
As Canadian political parties figure out how to use this newfangled interwebby thing, the mind wanders and begins to dig up trivialities. For example, are you shocked to see Harper use the words “great” and “Toronto” in the same statement without spitting at the ground? (And why does the background of his Twitter page look like a Royal Bank client card?) Did you know that @LiberalHQ is following @Starbucks? (What about the Seattle-based coffee chain has got the Liberal HQ so interested? Or does HQ just really, really like coffee?) Also, why doesn’t Jim Flaherty have a Twitter account? Imagine the fun he and Harper could have:
PMHarper: What’s up with the economy, @CashManFlaherty?
CashManFlaherty: Nothing, dude. It’s all good. #ostrichmode
PMHarper: Uh, we’ll need a deficit, won’t we? Budget FAIL
CashManFlaherty: Just stay cool. Flaherty 2011 FTW!
There’s an opportunity for Iggy to open the conversation, engage more Canadians, and generate excitement for the sad, sad Liberals. Otherwise, the party’s fate may be best described by our favourite political Twitter message, courtesy of Gilles Duceppe: “;-(((“.