Parliaments, PMOs and Social Media

On Tuesday, 31 January 2012, Education Secretary Michael Gove appeared before the House of Commons Education Committee. It is the Committee’s mandate to monitor the policy, administration and spending of the Department for Education and its associated arms length bodies, and having the Minister give evidence allows them to scrutinize his work, performance and policies.

This in and of itself is not remarkable. What is different about this meeting is that in advance of the session, the Committee asked the public to suggest questions via twitter. By all accounts, this rather novel approach was a huge success:

“We have been overwhelmed by how many there have been… For the last few days, there have just been hundreds and hundreds and ultimately thousands, I think, of questions.”

Over 5000 questions were received via Twitter, and the last hour of Gove’s appearance before the committee was used for questions submitted that way. You can watch the proceedings here, if interested. Both the UK Parliament and Government have embraced social media tools (defined as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc.) to a far greater extent than have parliaments in other Commonwealth jurisdictions. I would like to use this post to highlight some of these initiatives. Please note that I will be focusing here primarily on the use of social media by national parliaments and Offices of the Prime Minister/cabinet, but not on government departments. I will also look at the parliaments of sub-national jurisdictions, such as the Canadian provincial legislatures and Australian state parliaments, but not in as great detail, nor will I focus on the use of social media by individual MPs. It is highly possible that I may miss something, and if this is the case, I will update the post as needed, should such an omission be brought to my attention.

The United Kingdom – Parliaments

There is an official UK Parliament Twitter account (@UKParliament) which regularly tweets the upcoming business of the House of Commons and its various select committees, as well as other relevant news items. The House of Lords has its own Twitter account (@UKHouseofLords) which does much the same, but focusing only on the upper Chamber.

The UK Parliament also has a Facebook page, a Flickr account, and a YouTube channel. The UK Parliament has organized these videos in 10 playlists: PMQs (going back to 12 October 2011), Select Committees, Parliament Tours, 20 Years of Televised Commons, The Speaker, People and Parliament Inquiry, Virtual Tour of Westminster Hall, The House of Lords, Education Series, and Big Ben.

While not an initiative of Westminster, I would like to also mention Lords of the Blog, a collective blog authored by various members of the House of Lords. The blog launched in 2008 and is sponsored by the Hansard Society. You can also follow the blog on Twitter (@lordsoftheblog).

The Scottish Parliament has a Twitter account (@ScotParl), while the Welsh Assembly makes use of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, as does the Northern Ireland Assembly (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube). The Northern Ireland Assembly also maintains a blog, Assembly Round Up, which is described as being “not just about Assembly business, but also about some of the events, or behind-the-scenes activities.”

And while they don’t technically count as social media, I will mention that the Scottish and Welsh parliaments have online petitions schemes, although the Scottish Parliament’s e-petitions system is currently being overhauled, and so not active at the time of writing. And of course, I have written several posts about the e-petitions scheme launched by the UK Government in August 2011.

The United Kingdom – Prime Minister’s Office

On the Government side, the UK Prime Minister’s Office has an official Twitter account (@Number10gov), which bills itself as “The official twitter channel for Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, based at 10 Downing Street.” The website link associated with the account is to the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office (http://www.number10.gov.uk).

Consequently, the UK Prime Minister Twitter account is what I will be calling a “generic” account. By this I mean that it is associated with the Office of the Prime Minister and not specifically with the current incumbent of that office. Thus, if PM David Cameron left politics tomorrow, there would be no need to create a new Twitter account for whoever took over as the new Prime Minister. I mention this only because it presents a sharp contrast with the Twitter accounts of other prime ministers, as will be discussed below.

Number 10 also makes use of Facebook and Flickr. While the Flickr account, like the Twitter account is that of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Facebook page is David Cameron’s Facebook page, not a more generic Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Facebook page. There is also an “Official Number 10” iPhone app available, for the really diehard fans.

Cabinet Office also has a strong social media presence. There is a Twitter account (@cabinetofficeUK), Flickr account and YouTube channel. Cabinet Office supports the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, helping to ensure effective development, coordination and implementation of policy and operations across all government departments. It is headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. Clegg has a Twitter account, but it is Nick Clegg’s official Twitter account, not a generic Deputy Prime Minister Twitter account.

And while I stated at the outset that I would not be discussing individual MPs’ use of social media, I will single out one cabinet minister in particular, Foreign Secretary William Hague. Hague is an avid user of Twitter and frequently holds Q&A sessions on Twitter wherein he solicits and answers questions from people on various aspects of foreign policy and international events.

Canada – Parliaments

Overall, Canadian parliaments are lagging in their adoption of social media.

The Canadian House of Commons does not make use of any social media, however, the Canadian Senate recently launched a Twitter account, @SenateCA.

Three Canadian provincial legislatures have started using social media: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. The Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island has both a Twitter account and a Facebook page, as does the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan (Twitter, Facebook). The Nova Scotia House of Assembly has  Twitter account.

Canada – Prime Minister’s Office

In contrast to the Canadian Parliament’s notable absence on social media, the Prime Minister’s Office has embraced social media whole-heartedly. Some of the social media accounts are generic – meaning associated with the Office and not more personally with the current incumbent, while other accounts are official but personal (or partisan) and could not be used by the next Prime Minister. The Prime Minister of Canada website features links to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, as well as Google+ and podcasts. The Twitter, Facebook and Flickr accounts are associated with the PMO and link back to the PMO website. However, the Prime Minister has another Twitter account (@pmharper) which is more personal and partisan as the associated link is to the Conservative Party of Canada website. Similarly, the YouTube channel is heavily branded by the individual, with Stephen Harper’s name dominant. It does link back to the PMO website, but would require a significant overhaul before it could be used by another PM. The Google+ account is clearly a more personal Stephen Harper account rather than an official, generic Prime Minister of Canada account.

Australia – Parliaments

There are four Twitter accounts associated with the Australian Parliament. The Australian House of Representatives and Senate both have Twitter accounts (@AboutTheHouse and @AuSenate). The Hansard services also has a Twitter account (@AUS_Hansard), as does the Parliamentary Library (@ParlLibrary).

Four of Australia’s six states and two territories have social media presence. They are:

Australia – Prime Minister’s Office

The social media accounts listed on the website of the Prime Minister of Australia would appear to be personal accounts rather than generic accounts for the post of PM rather than the current incumbent. The Facebook page is Kevin Rudd’s page, the Twitter account (@KRuddMP) is associated with the Kevin Rudd’s personal website, not the website of the Office of the Prime Minister. The video page on the Prime Minister of Australia website are hosted by Kevin Rudd’s YouTube account.

New Zealand – Parliament

The New Zealand Parliament has a Twitter account (@NZParliament).

New Zealand – Prime Minister’s Office

Prime Minister John Key has a Twitter account (@johnkeypm), but like the Australian PM’s account, it isn’t a generic Office of the Prime Minister account. It links to John Key’s Facebook page, and to his political website.

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