Jacob Rees-Mogg, not best known for being ‘down with the kids’, is in fact the latest MP to be called out by the Speaker for using his phone during a Commons Brexit debate. In response, The Mogg apologised for being “unduly modern” (to the amusement of the Chamber). The exposure this got in the media and on YouTube is testament to the wider view that MPs are techno-dinosaurs.
So where, beyond some of them possessing grey hair, does this perception originate? It could be down to the archaic procedures and formalities of Parliament (having to avoid using other members’ actual name at all costs); or perhaps from seeing MPs in their natural habitat of the musty green benches and dark wood Commons décor; or even witnessing the unrelatable way in which many Parliamentarians speak (hear, hear). In any case, the perception is very much prevalent.
However, contrary to mainstream belief, recent ComRes research suggests that MPs are rather tech-savvy. In our latest Insider Insights Report on Social Media, we found that two-thirds of MPs (65%) use Twitter more than once a day. Facebook is the second most popular social media platform, with almost half of MPs (46%) using it more than once a day. In contrast Instagram, the UK public’s third favourite (just behind Facebook and Twitter), is only used once a day or more by six percent of MPs.
The main purpose for MPs to use Twitter is to post about ‘political matters generally’ (74%) and for keeping in touch with the general public (72%). However, for communicating with constituents, Facebook comes out on top (85%). This reflects the importance of social media as a political tool - not only giving politicians more exposure, making them more accountable and easier to keep in touch with, but also in keeping up to date with fast moving issues. Twitter, especially, has for the past decade been the political rumour mill of choice.
The rising popularity of social media isn’t, of course, all positive – and our survey reinforced this. An astonishing 87% of MPs complain that they have been subject to unpleasant personal attacks through social media because of their work as an MP. This has been particularly prevalent since Brexit turned toxic and shows that, while social media is doubtless now a vital political communications tool, the relative or absolute anonymity of online contact can foster some ugly discourse.
However, MPs are nonetheless still keen enthusiasts for social media, with almost four in five (78%) agreeing that it is now an essential communication tool for political debate and seven in ten (70%) agree that it has changed the way campaigning is done in their constituency.
The advantage social media can give MPs in terms of tapping into the public mood and debate is paramount in an era of profound political disillusion. Just 8% of the UK population say they are a ‘very strong’ supporter of a political party. Only 6% think Parliament is emerging from Brexit in a good light. In view of these alarming stats, MPs need to position themselves as close to voters as possible.
And those seeking to influence the influencers also need to take note: use Twitter for general political communication and, if you can, Facebook for constituency contact.
Their political views and indeed their social media output are certainly not to everyone’s taste, but budding politicians from all sides of the chamber could do worse than emulate The Mogg (266,011 Twitter followers) - or indeed Donald Trump (59,591,884 followers) – only insofar as they need to fully embrace the new trend of being “unduly modern” if they are to be effective 21st Century campaigners and win the support of the masses.