Facebook politics: Would the real Gordon Brown please stand up
Social networking tools are emerging as an effective tool for some politicians to connect with their constituents. Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb has been one of the longest and most active web users in Parliament. He suggests that Facebook's origins in university networks makes it an ideal tool for keeping touch with young constituents who are studying away from home.
According to Webb, there were about 96 MPs from the three main parties with profiles in Facebook by mid-2007. Trying to update this number is hard. It's definitely not an exact science and some elected representatives are surprisingly low profile. As Webb himself knows, sometimes it's hard to tell if it's the real thing or a spoof - and you could hardly believe that any of the ten or so Gordon Brown's on Facebook are real!
There's no doubt that Facebook and the other social networking sites are starting to infiltrate the political psyche. Iain Dale comments on the burgeoning number of Conservative candidates creating groups using the medium and Facebook appears 11 times in the Parliamentary Hansard over the last year.
This month, Conservative MP Michael Fabricant introduced an Early Day Motion congratulating Facebook "for being an effective tool for social networking." He goes on to note that Facebook has more young adults per capita in the UK than any other country and then reports an interesting statistic. Apparently 273,740 UK Facebook members indicate that they are politically conservative (note the small ‘c'). He claims that there are more conservatives than other political persuasions, although he doesn't have numbers for the others. Fabricant's numbers seem legitimate but it's worth noting that the labels don't relate to political parties and are US-centric in their language.
Another way of seeing political activity on Facebook comes from a brief analysis of groups. Drilling down into these shows 2,937 members in the Labour Party's group, 2,729 people in the Liberal Democrat's, 622 in Plaid Cymru's and a rather lowly 307 in the Conservatives. Of course, there are a myriad of unofficial sites for all of these parties plus many other sub-groupings.
The political fringes and their respective opponents appear too; ‘Vote BNP' has 1,459 members, 359 fewer than the ‘BNP must be stopped'. The English Democrats limp along on 22.
eDemocracy Programme Director