THE sacking yesterday of a Labour candidate who made offensive remarks on Twitter shows the importance of social media in the general election. BARRY GIBSON asks candidates in Huddersfield how they’re using websites like Facebook to help win votes.
STUART MacLennan probably should have thought twice before he hit the tweet button.
Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Moray was sacked by the party yesterday after it emerged that he enjoyed letting off steam on micro-blogging website Twitter.
Mr MacLennan’s choice language included describing older people as “coffin-dodgers” and using the abusive term “teuchters” to describe people from the North of Scotland – not a great idea when you’re trying to win votes in a Highlands constituency.
Jason McCartney, Colne Valley Conservative Parliamentary candidate and keen tweeter, was not surprised that the micro-blogging site claimed its first scalp of the campaign yesterday.
“I think a few more candidates will be caught out like this,” he said.
“You have to be so, so careful. The big positive about Twitter is that it’s personal and immediate. The big danger is that you press send and it’s gone.”
Mr McCartney has 260 followers on Twitter, the website which allows you to tell the world what’s going on in your life – as long as you can do it in 140 characters of fewer.
The Honley man uses Twitter to update followers about his campaign to be the next MP for Colne Valley, and to provide links to interesting stories elsewhere on the web. Yesterday his tweets included news of his visit to David Brown Gears in Lockwood with Conservative frontbencher David Willetts.
Mr McCartney has also been a member of social networking site Facebook since shortly before he became Colne Valley candidate in 2007.
He said: “I use it to communicate with my young activists because they all use Facebook on their phones. I’ve also set up discussion groups about the Tesco proposal for Holmfirth and the Lindley Moor plan which have attracted 200 people each.
“Facebook helps me get an idea of what people are thinking.”
But the would-be MP injected a note of caution.
“It’s a way of communicating, but it’s not the way of communicating. If all you did was social media, you wouldn’t get anywhere because there are people like my mum who don’t know what tweeting is.
“The big thing I’m doing in this campaign is knocking on doors, meeting people face-to-face.”
Huddersfield Green Party candidate Clr Andrew Cooper agrees.
The Brockholes man is a keen blogger and has recently taken to Tweeting during council meetings.
But he said: “There’s no substitute for getting out there on the doorsteps.”
Clr Cooper began his blog Greening Kirklees nine months ago. The Newsome councillor updates it five or six times a month. Recent posts have included his views on the Castle Hill pub saga and the community orchard at Highfields.
“I’ve been able to get my thoughts out there,” he said. “A blog should be engaging, like a letter, rather than an election leaflet.”
Clr Cooper has been pushing for Kirklees to do more on the internet.
He said: “We need to find new ways to bring people into the democratic process, like webcasting council meetings.
“Not enough people know about what goes on in our monthly council meetings so I’ve tweeted during the last two council meetings.”
Paul Cooney, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate for Huddersfield, has had a blog since March and is also on Facebook
As a representative of a new political party, the Edgerton man sees social media as a good way to attract followers.
“I think it’s important to use as many communication tools as possible,” he said. “My Facebook page is going very well, I’m getting a lot of comments and a lot of feedback. I also use it as a pro-active tool to talk about issues and my supporters about meetings and leafleting.”
Mr Cooney added: “I think social media will just grow and grow because it’s accessible and easy.”
Dr Pete Woodcock of the University of Huddersfield believes social media will be even more important at the next general election.
He said: “At this general election social media will be important but marginal. At the next election it will be vital.”
Dr Woodcock believes sites like Facebook and Twitter are a great way for politicians to reach young people.
He said: “People aged 18 to 25 don’t vote as a general rule and they don’t go to public meetings or watch broadcast news. But they will go on Facebook and you can get a message across to them there.”
Social media explained
BLOG: An online diary where the user can post updates about their life and their views of the world.
TWITTER: A blogging site for the pithy. Each blog post, or tweet, must be a maximum of 140 characters.
FACEBOOK: The most popular of the social networking sites, with 19 million users in Britain alone. Facebook allows people to organise events, post photos and chat with friends.