You are on page 1of 32

Becoming a Fan: New and Social Media as a Tool for Political Communication and Engagement amongst Canadian and

New Zealand MPs

Steven Barnes 1 Victoria University of Wellington

New and social media are becoming increasingly important in how political actors communicate with the electorate. Barack Obamas innovative use of social media during the 2008 US presidential election has resulted in increased interest about how political campaigns can harness major social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, the power of YouTube to spread campaign messages is now being utilised and blogs are proliferating.

However, the use of new and social media outside of campaign periods has largely been overlooked. This is a significant omission as it suggests that these forms of media do not foster sustained relationships between legislators and citizens. Moreover, this omission assumes that political actors only want to engage with citizens when there is something in it for themselves votes. This assumes that the benefits of new media and social networking fall primarily to politicians, not citizens.

This paper aims to understand how New Zealand and Canadian legislators use new and social media to communicate with the electorate outside of campaign periods. As access to these types of media proliferates they provide a unique method for legislators to connect with citizens. In observing how MPs use new and social media it is possible to better understand norms surrounding legislator/constituent communication.

The author wishes to thank Clare Curran and David Talbot from the New Zealand Labour Party for providing information about the Red Alert blog, David Farrar for providing information about Kiwiblog, Nicola Kean for sharing information about the internet and the 2008 New Zealand election campaign, Jackson James Wood for assistance in deciphering technical information, Kate Stone for editing advice, and the parliaments of Canada and New Zealand for information about support available to MPs.

New media usually refers to electronic media sources that are unmediated by traditional media sources and allow direct communication between the author and the viewer, for instance, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube videos. Of course, what is new changes frequently. This paper considers MPs websites to be a form of new media, despite the fact that websites themselves most certainly are no longer new technology. However, MPs systematic use of websites has been a phenomenon of the last decade and continues to evolve. For instance, websites are increasingly becoming interactive tools rather than information depositaries. Therefore their use, if not their medium, is new.

Social Media, as defined by Danah Boyd and Nicole Elliston, refers to web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. 2 This paper focuses on two popular social networking sites: Facebook and Twitter.

Literature Review

In any democracy, the key measure of representatives legitimacy is their accountability to electors. Thus an assumption exists that legislators must be accessible to their constituents. The internets extensive reach provides new means for these interactions to occur. 3

Arguably, Canada and New Zealand have similar political cultures, born out of a shared connection with the United Kingdom. Both countries are long-lasting and stable parliamentary systems which employ the Westminster system of government. The existence in each country of locally-elected members ensures that the democracies are comparatively intimate it is relatively easy for the public to access their decision-makers.

Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Elliston, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Vol. 13, No. 1, Article 11 at 3 Russell J. Dalton, Citizen Attitudes and Political Behavior, Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 33, No. 6/7, August/September 2000, p. 932.

New Media

Some literature exists on the use of candidate websites during election campaigns. For instance, Girish Gulati and Christine Williams found that 85 percent of Senate candidates and 79 percent of House candidates had personal websites in the 2006 US mid-term elections. 4 Rachel Gibson and Ian McAllister found that 39 percent of candidates in the 2004 Australian federal election had campaign websites.5 More significantly, Gibson and McAllister found that having a website increased candidates electoral support by two percent. 6 However, no similar studies on the electoral effect of having a website have been conducted, making this finding difficult to substantiate.

There are variations in which types of candidates choose to employ personal websites. Gulati and Williams found that in election campaigns, challengers were more likely to utilise the web than incumbents and that major parties outdo minor parties. 7 Moreover, candidates running in districts that are considered marginal are more likely to have websites than those running in safe seats. 8

It is interesting that no studies have been conducted in New Zealand or Canada on individual candidates websites. Instead, studies focus on central party campaign sites. This is understandable in New Zealand as its Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system ensures that each partys level of support is the primary determinant of electoral success. 9 Canada, however, uses the first-past-the-post electoral system,
Girish J. Gulati and Christine B. Williams, Closing the Gap, Raising the Bar: Candidate Website Communication in the 2006 Campaigns for Congress, Social Science Computer Review, Vol. 25, No. 4, Winter 2007, p. 447. 5 Rachel K. Gibson and Ian McAllister, Does Cyber-Campaigning Win Votes? Online Communication in the 2004 Australian Election, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Vol. 16, No. 3, October 2006, p. 250. 6 Rachel K. Gibson and Ian McAllister, Does Cyber-Campaigning Win Votes?, p. 256. 7 Girish J. Gulati and Christine B. Williams, Closing the Gap, Raising the Bar, p. 444. 8 Girish J. Gulati and Christine B. Williams, Closing the Gap, Raising the Bar, p. 449. 9 For examples of literature on use of new and social media in New Zealand election campaigns, see Hugo Gong and Miriam Lips, The Use of New Media by Political Parties in the 2008 National Election (Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington, November 2009); Karina Pedersen, New Zealand Parties in Cyberspace, Political Science, Vol. 54, No. 2, December 2005, pp. 107-116; Kane Hopkins and Donald Matheson, Blogging the New Zealand Election: The Impact of New Media Practices on the Old Game, Political Science, Vol. 57, No. 2, December 2005, pp. 93-105; Peter Fitzjohn and Rob Salmond, The Battle of the Blog: A Phoney War?, in Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts (eds.), The

where competitions in electoral districts are important, especially in marginal seats. It is therefore surprising that the existing literature and political parties themselves focus on central party campaign websites. 10 This is indicative of the strength of political parties in Canada a phenomenon it shares with New Zealand.

While providing useful knowledge about how candidates and parties engage with voters, campaign-based literature sheds no light on how legislators engage with citizens (or, for that matter, how citizens engage with legislators). The differences between these two types of engagement are significant. Whereas campaign communication is about articulating particular policies and beliefs with a view to soliciting votes, legislator/citizen communication is about civic engagement. While re-election may be a motivation for legislators to engage with citizens, the overall effect is to more deeply involve citizens in their democracy.

Social Media

One of the key benefits of social networking sites, such as Facebook, is that users may create events, join groups, or become fans of public figures. This is an enormous benefit as MPs are able to maintain regular contact with citizens. Legislators may use social networking sites to keep supporters informed about events. More importantly, however, opening a regular means of communication may lead to political supporters becoming more politically active, including contributing financially or volunteering. A study of the role of the internet in the 2008 US election found that 40 percent of users had used social networking sites to engage in some form of political activity.11 Moreover, the ability of social network users to share links with friends means that MPs potential audiences extend beyond those who actively follow them online. Thus social networking is a means of mobilisation, as well as communication.
Baubles of Office: The New Zealand General Election of 2005 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2007), pp. 249-268; and Nicola Kean, The Campaign in Cyber-Space: The Good, the Bad and the Very, Very Ugly, forthcoming. 10 For examples of literature on use of new and social media in Canadian election campaigns, see Tamara A. Small, The Internet and the 2004 Cyber-Campaign, in Jon H. Pammett and Christopher Dornan (eds.), The Canadian General Election of 2004 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2004), pp. 203-234; Tamara A. Small, Equal Access, Unequal Success: Major and Minor Canadian Parties on the Net, Party Politics, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2008, pp. 51-70. 11 Aaron Smith and Lee Rainie, The Internet and the 2008 Election,, p. 10, accessed 13 January 2010.

Many candidates use social media during campaigns, but their continued use between elections is limited. Most legislators do not retain an active Facebook presence following their election, suggesting that social media is not an important means of communication or engagement with constituents outside of elections. 12 Legislators may only continue to use Facebook if they intend to run for office again and believe that social media could offer them an advantage. 13

The inexpensiveness of having a social media presence, even compared to hosting a website, may mean that legislators with less funding especially those from third parties may rely more heavily on social media than their well-resourced colleagues. 14 Thus the resource requirements of social media are qualitatively different to new media. Whereas new media requires significant resources in terms of time, knowledge, and cost social networking sites are ready-made for legislators. Indeed, fan pages can be set up in minutes on Facebook.

In assessing how legislators use social media to connect with citizens, it is important to understand the demographics that primarily engage with new methods of communication. Although Facebook and Twitter release only limited user demographic information, some research exists about US users. The average age of US Facebook users remains relatively young, with approximately 43 percent of users in the 18-25 age bracket and 12 percent aged 13-17 years. 15 Forty-three percent of Twitter users are aged 18-34, although, somewhat surprisingly, 30 percent are aged 35-49. 16

Mike Westling, Expanding the Public Sphere: The Impact of Facebook on Political Communication, Working Paper,, accessed 14 January 2010, p. 7. 13 Mike Westling, Expanding the Public Sphere, p. 11. 14 Mike Westling, Expanding the Public Sphere, p. 9. 15, accessed 13 January 2010. It should be stressed that this website is not an official source of Facebook information. It is, however, a branch of the Inside Network a company that tracks social media use for private sector clients. Therefore, it is considered more reliable than other sources that typically report on Facebook use primarily tech blogs. 16 Pear Analytics, Twitter Study August 2009,, accessed 13 January 2010.


In terms of use, Facebook claims to have over 350 million registered users worldwide, 50 percent of whom log on in any given day. The average user spends 55 minutes per day on Facebook, is a member of 12 groups, is invited to three events per month, and becomes a fan of two pages each month. Overall, pages have 5.3 billion fans. 17 Twitter does not offer such comprehensive user statistics, but has 27 million users in the US alone. Overall, one percent of users generate 35 percent of Twitter content. Twitter users appear to be transitory, with only 27 percent being regular users. 18 While Facebook is the dominant social networking site, Twitter still commands a sizable market share.

Internet Use in New Zealand and Canada

It is important to understand the variations in internet use and quality between Canada and New Zealand. Seventy-five percent of Canadians use the internet, versus 72 percent of New Zealanders. 19 Moreover, there is approximately one computer connected to the internet for every five Canadians, while there is one computer for every two New Zealanders. 20 Thus while approximately the same proportion of Canadians and New Zealanders have access to the internet, New Zealanders have better access to computers.

In 2006 (the most recent year for which comparable data is available), 58 percent of Canadian households had a broadband connection versus only 33 percent of New Zealand households. 21 The average data cap of Canadian broadband subscriptions is
Facebook Statistics,, accessed 13 January 2010. Pear Analytics, Twitter Study August 2009. 19 CIA World Factbook, Country Comparison: Internet Users, u&rank=58#nz, accessed 12 January 2010. 20 CIA World Factbook, Country Comparison: Internet Hosts,, accessed 12 January 2010. 21 It is likely that the number of broadband users has increased notably in Canada and New Zealand since 2006, although unfortunately comparable data is yet to be reported. The OECD reported in June 2009 that 29.7 percent of Canadians and 22.8 percent of New Zealanders had a broadband subscription (OECD, Broadband Subscriptions per 100 Inhabitants, June 2009,,3343,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html, accessed 12 January 2010). This data is less useful as it does not indicate how many individuals have access to each broadband subscription, but it suggests that broadband connections are becoming more common in each country. More importantly, this data also suggests that the discrepancy in broadband uptake between Canada and New Zealand persists.
18 17

over twice that of New Zealand subscriptions (50,375MB versus 20,300MB respectively). 22 High-speed internet connections allow users to access information more quickly, while high data caps mean that a large number of websites can be accessed. This is very important to note as it confirms that the quality of internet connections are better in Canada than in New Zealand.

Methodology and Limitations

This paper tracks the online presence of all 308 members of the Canadian House of Commons and all 122 members of the New Zealand parliament, creating a sample of 430 MPs. Canadian MPs online presence was recorded on 14 and 15 December 2009. As the Canadian parliament had risen for the year on 11 December 2009, this meant that Canadian information was recorded within two to three days of the House sitting.

New Zealand MPs online presence was recorded one week later, on 21 December 2009. This later data collection period was because the New Zealand parliament sat until 17 December 2009. Thus New Zealand MPs web presences were recorded four days after the House rose for the year. This meant that tracking occurred at approximately the same stage of the parliamentary calendar in Canada and New Zealand.

In accessing each MPs web presence, the MP profile sections of the Canadian and New Zealand parliaments were accessed to see whether the MP had provided a link to their personal website. 23 If no link existed, the MPs name was searched using or

Once MPs websites were accessed, they were analysed and sorted using the following categories:


OECD, Average Monthly Bit/Data Size and Price per Additional MB, by Country, October 2008,,3343,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html, accessed 12 January 2010. 23 Canada: =False; New Zealand:

Video Photos Media appearances House information Events Link to party page Information about volunteering and/or making a financial contribution Days since the last entry.

Where provided, links from MPs websites to the Facebook or Twitter pages were followed. Where links were absent or MPs did not have personal websites, MPs names were searched on Facebook and Twitter. The number of friends or supporters each MP had on Facebook was recorded, as was the number of followers each MP had on Twitter.

This study has some important limitations which must be highlighted. Firstly, this study claims only to be a snapshot of MPs online presence. It is possible that fluctuations occur in online activities that are not captured in this data. Moreover, the proximity of data collection to the Christmas holiday period means that some MPs may have ceased to update their websites or social media applications until the new year.

Secondly, the data collected is limited to what the author located in relatively simple internet searches. This limitation is intentional and based on the assumption that if information cannot be found using simple searches, then it has little use.

New Media

Occurrence of Personal Websites

A great number of MPs in Canada and New Zealand had their own website, although Canadian MPs were more likely to use this method of communication. Overall, 80 percent of Canadian MPs had a personal website, versus 58 percent of New Zealand

legislators. The variation is surprising, especially when one considers the similar internet access rates of the two countries. Assuming that high levels of internet use and access are related to MPs decision to use this media, one would expect that approximately the same proportion of Canadian and New Zealand MPs would have a personal website. However, this does not appear to be the case.

It is important, however, to note that variations occurred in website use not only between Canada and New Zealand, but also within each country. Each country and partys use of personal websites is set out in Figure 1.1. Figure 1.1 Percentage of MPs with Personal Websites by Country and Party 24

Most notable in these results is the extremely low number of Labour Party MPs who have their own website. One possible explanation for this result is that a group of Labour MPs set up a shared blog, Red Alert (, following the 2008 election:


It should be noted that the results for small New Zealand parties may appear artificially high due to their low number of MPs. For instance, the Progressive and United Future parties each have only one MP.

This blog has a reasonably large readership, receiving almost 200,000 page views in its first six months online. 25 While not all Labour MPs blog on the site, those who do use it extensively. 26 Thus some Labour MPs may have opted to use Red Alert as their primary website rather than creating their own web presence. It is also significant that few Bloc Qubcois (BQ) MPs had personal websites. 27 This may be due to the BQs strong regional focus whereas other parties try to appeal to constituents across Canada, the Bloc runs only in Quebec. Thus it is possible that Bloc MPs place greater emphasis on face-to-face interactions with constituents than other parties.

Outside of these parties, however, it is notable that a large proportion of MPs have websites. Some parties had a standardised website design, as demonstrated by the Conservative Party:

Clare Curran, Six Months Old Today,, 5 November 2009, accessed 15 January 2010. 26 One MP, Trevor Mallard, made 292 posts in six months. Clare Curran, Six Months Old Today. 27 It should be noted that analysis of the Bloc Qubcoiss online presence may be less comprehensive than for other parties due to the authors limited French language ability. Extra care was taken in searching for and analysing Bloc Qubcois websites to minimise this effect.



A number of National Party MPs also used template websites:


There was, however, a major difference between Conservative and National party templates. The Conservative template had an Other News section on its front page, which displayed news that appeared to be uploaded centrally:


By contrast, National Party websites lacked centralised content and appeared to be controlled by individual MPs. This suggests that the high rate of website use amongst Conservative MPs may in fact be an effect of a web-savvy central party.

While one may argue that it is better for MPs to have some web presence rather than to not be online at all, there were exceptions in Canada and New Zealand where links were broken or websites simply missing:


Demographic variations occurred in MPs use of websites, as shown in Figure 1.2.


Figure 1.2 MPs use of Personal Websites by Demographic 28

100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 51+ Government Men Under40 Women 4150 Safeat5% Marginalat 5% Opposition Minister Non Minister NewZealand(%) Canada(%)




Ministerial Status

Governing Status

Unsurprisingly, MPs under 40 years old were more likely to have personal websites than their older colleagues. It is possible that younger MPs have greater technological skills than older MPs. Moreover, younger individuals tend to use the internet at a greater rate than older individuals, meaning that younger MPs may use online communication as a means of reaching a key constituency.

It is surprising that government members have a greater online presence than opposition MPs. One would expect that the oppositions role of criticising government policy would mean that personal websites which provide a quick and unmediated forum for criticism would appeal to opposition MPs. These low rates may be caused by a lack of resources or, perhaps more seriously, a lack of readers. At the time of data collection the official opposition parties in Canada and New Zealand were significantly behind the government in the polls. Opposition MPs may simply be

The safety of each seat was calculated at two levels: 1) whether the seat was won with a majority of five percent or more of the total votes at the last election; and 2) whether the seat was won with a majority of 10 percent or more of the total votes at the last election. In the case of New Zealand list MPs, safety was calculated based on whether they were in the bottom five or 10 percent of the MPs elected off the party list at the last election.


overlooked by the public, meaning that they focus on more traditional media outlets which have larger audiences and therefore a greater impact.

An interesting variation occurs between MPs in Canada and New Zealand when considering seat safety and the likelihood of having a website. In Canada, MPs were equally likely to have a website regardless of whether their seat was safe or marginal. In New Zealand, by contrast, MPs who enjoyed a majority of 10 percent or less were five percent more likely to have websites than their colleagues with majorities of over 10 percent. Moreover, MPs who had a majority of less than five percent were 13 percent more likely to have websites than their safe colleagues.

This is possibly explained by age variations amongst safe and marginal MPs. There was minimal variation amongst Canadian MPs ages based on seat safety. On the other hand, marginal New Zealand MPs were an average of nine years younger than safe MPs when safety was measured at five percent, and seven years younger at 10 percent. Thus it appears that the effects of seat safety on website use are minimal, especially when compared to age effects. This suggests that websites may be viewed as being of little use in the winning of votes.

Content of Personal Websites

In analysing the content of personal websites it is possible to better understand what information legislators wish to communicate to constituents and how they go about engaging with citizens. The content of MPs websites varied, as shown in Figure 1.3.


Figure 1.3 Content of Canadian and New Zealand MPs Personal Websites

It is the norm for MPs to include a blog or newsletter on their websites. This is unsurprising as websites provide an opportunity for MPs to quickly and cheaply post information about their activities. Blogs and newsletters may supplement or even replace more traditional forms of communication with constituents, such as columns in local newspapers. It is important to note, however, that this is largely a one-way form of communication. Few blogs allowed website users to leave comments, meaning that the opportunity for MPs to engage with constituents was lost.

The inclusion of event information is a further extension of keeping constituents informed of MPs activities. Even if constituents do not attend these events it may be beneficial for MPs to be seen as actively involved in their communities. However, the usefulness of websites to encourage constituents to engage with their legislators was limited due the tendency of MPs to report on events that had already occurred accounts of school galas or hospital openings, for instance. Thus most MPs events sections were also a tool of one-way communication rather than engagement.


The variations between Canadian and New Zealand MPs with regard to multi-media content, such as photos and videos, may be due to the differences in the quality of internet connections. Multi-media content uses a great deal of bandwidth, meaning that New Zealand MPs may use these media less than their Canadian counterparts because of lower data caps. Multimedia content allows citizens to engage with their representatives, but only to a limited degree. Many MPs had prepared specially-made videos summing up their year and wishing their constituents a safe holiday period. A few sophisticated MPs even had their own YouTube channel, meaning that viewers could post comments and responses:

While multimedia content may humanise MPs by allowing constituents to see them on the job and talking directly to them, the scope for genuine engagement is limited.

The most substantial differences in website content between the two nations were in House information and links to party pages New Zealand MPs were substantially more likely than Canadian MPs to include this information. With regards to House information, it may be that the small size of the New Zealand parliament means that New Zealand MPs simply have more House information to share because of their


more frequent speaking opportunities. The House forms a central component of popular understandings of legislators roles, meaning that New Zealand MPs may exploit their House experience to show constituents that they are fulfilling normative role expectations.

New Zealand MPs tendency to include links to their partys main page confirms the centrality of political parties in proportional representation systems. Even electorate MPs have a stake in increasing their partys share of the party vote. By contrast, Canadas first-past-the-post electoral system encourages MPs to cultivate their personal vote. While having the endorsement of a party is almost always essential for election, the primacy of party brands is less than that of New Zealand. This may be troublesome for parties, however, as constituents may not make clear connections between local MPs and particular parties. Indeed, a number of Canadian MPs websites had no party branding whatsoever a phenomenon unthinkable in New Zealand:


MPs in Canada and New Zealand infrequently included links to their media appearances. If MPs can prove that they are worthy of media attention, constituents may perceive them as being active in their constituency and therefore legitimate. It may be that, given the number of backbenchers included in this studys sample, many MPs simply have few media appearances of which to boast. Indeed, they may choose not to include the few media links they have so that constituents do not know just how ineffectual they are as backbenchers. Regardless, even where this information was included, there were no opportunities for citizens to engage with the content or the legislator, making it a passive mode of communication.

The most concerning aspect of MPs websites was the dearth of information about volunteering or becoming a supporter. The failure to include information about volunteering is significant as it is likely that individuals who visit MPs websites are active citizens who are interested in politics or the MP and therefore may be the most likely to volunteer. Moreover, few MPs included information about how to contribute financially to them or their party.


This, along with the examples above about the one-way communication typical of MPs websites, suggests that in both Canada and New Zealand legislators view their websites as mediums for communication, not engagement. There appeared to be little enthusiasm for using this new media source in any innovative ways. Websites were treated with the same mindset of traditional media, with the author and the reader separated. This shows that the majority of MPs have not adapted to the potential of new media to foster genuine, ongoing, and two-way communication and engagement with citizens.

Finally, it is salient to note that unless websites are updated regularly, they essentially become worthless. Visitors who see only old news are unlikely to return. On average, 35 days had elapsed since Canadian MPs had last updated their websites, versus 43 days for New Zealand MPs. One could therefore argue that Canadian MPs make better use of their websites, but it should be acknowledged that 35 days is still an exceptionally long length of time between updates. However, the averages of both countries were significantly skewed by a few MPs who had effectively abandoned their websites: one Canadian MP had not updated their website for 503 days and one New Zealand MP had not done so for 615 days.

If websites that had not been updated for 100 days or more were treated as abandoned and thus excluded from analysis, the average time since the last update was 15 days for Canadian MPs and 12 days for New Zealand MPs. Thus while the majority of MPs update their websites frequently a small number abandon their online presence. This is encouraging as it suggests that MPs who appreciate the importance of having an online presence devote a reasonable amount of time to ensuring that they keep it up-to-date.

Social Networking


Use of Facebook was reasonably significant amongst Canadian and New Zealand MPs. Overall, 64 percent of Canadian and 60 percent of New Zealand MPs used


Facebook. Each partys use of Facebook and their average number of friends is shown in Figure 1.4.

Figure 1.4 MPs use of Facebook and Average Number of Friends

These rates of Facebook use is reasonably high, especially when one considers that social networking has only recently become popular as a political tool. It may be that the high rates of use in each country are due to the Obama-effect both Canada and New Zealand had general elections at around the same time as the 2008 US presidential election, where Barack Obama famously, and effectively, used Facebook as a communication and mobilisation tool. Canadian and New Zealand MPs, who were also campaigning at the time, may have signed up to Facebook in order to catch the latest fad.

MPs from the NDP and Liberals had a particularly large number of friends. This is due to who the MPs on Facebook were primarily party leaders and senior MPs who easily attract supporters. For instance, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had almost 29,000 supporters:


The same is true, although to a lesser extent, for National and Conservative party MPs, who had a relatively large number of friends compared to the proportion of their MPs on Facebook. By contrast, the large proportion of BQ and Labour MPs on Facebook but the low number of friends suggests that these parties view Facebook as a medium for all MPs to be involved in, not just senior MPs.

Just as having a broken website is an internet faux pas, MPs who choose not to have a social networking presence run the risk that someone else will adopt their online persona, as demonstrated by a fake Facebook page set up in the name of New Zealand MP Parekura Horomia:


While comical, pages such as these should be of concern to MPs as they are often the first search result in the absence of a genuine page.

Some variations occurred in Facebook use amongst MPs from particular demographics, as shown in Figure 1.5.


Figure 1.5 Facebook use by MP Demographic

100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 51+ Govt. Safeat5% Safeat10% Marginalat5% Marginalat10% NonMinister NonGovt. 4150 Men Under40 Women Minister NZ Canada




Ministerial Status

Governing Status

Given that young audiences tend to use social networking sites most extensively, it is logical that MPs who seek to communicate with this constituency make best use of this media. It is therefore notable that age has no correlation with Facebook use in Canada. The high proportion of Canadian MPs who use Facebook suggests that either Canadian parties encourage and facilitate their MPs use of Facebook, or that Facebook has become so established in Canada that it is simply accepted that all MPs should use this medium. Facebook became popular later in New Zealand, meaning that this saturation point may not have occurred.

Female MPs were more likely to use Facebook in both Canada and New Zealand. This may be due to the fact that women are more likely than men to use social networking sites 56 percent of Facebook users. 29 Female MPs may use social networking sites as a means of connecting with female constituents. If this is the case it demonstrates a great deal of sophistication in MPs targeted use of social networking.

29, accessed 19 January 2010.


The connection between seat safety and Facebook use is complex. In Canada, there appears to be a correlation between holding a marginal seat and having a Facebook account, even when taking the age of MPs into account. In New Zealand, on the other hand, no such correlation exists. Indeed, MPs whose seats were safe at five percent were more likely to have a Facebook account than their more marginal colleagues. Moreover, this group of safe MPs were an average of nine years older than the marginal MPs, meaning safer MPs were more likely to use Facebook in New Zealand, despite the fact that they were older.

This, of course, is counterintuitive, but there are potential explanations. Firstly, it is possible that older MPs in New Zealand were more influenced by the Obama-effect than their younger colleagues. Older MPs may have tried to emulate Obamas modes of campaigning in order to appear cool and to reach out to a younger constituency. Alternatively, and perhaps more seriously, marginal MPs may not see Facebook as a serious tool for communication and engagement. This hypothesis is possibly supported by the fact that MPs whose seats were marginal at 10 percent were more likely to use Facebook than those who were marginal at five percent. If Facebook is not perceived as a vote-winner, marginal MPs may invest their energies in alternative methods of communication traditional media that are perceived to be influential.


MPs use of Twitter and their average number of followers is shown in Figure 1.6.


Figure 1.6 MPs use of Twitter and Average Number of Followers

Overall, Facebook is more popular amongst legislators than Twitter. This is understandable as Facebook has a far larger and more active membership. Moreover, Twitter is somewhat limited in what MPs can post. Whereas Facebook accommodates profile information, groups, and events, Twitter is limited to 140-character tweets.

While New Zealand MPs made greater use of Twitter than their Canadian counterparts, Canadian MPs had a greater average number of followers. It is likely that the discrepancy in population sizes between the two nations is partially to blame. However, it is notable that even within New Zealand, MPs had relatively few followers. This is best exemplified by the Labour Party, which had the highest proportion of MPs on Twitter of all New Zealand parties but still could not attract many followers. Likewise, while more popular than Labour MPs, National Party MPs had relatively few followers. This suggests that Twitter is not fully established in New Zealand and that its usefulness to MPs as a means of communication may be limited.


Canadian MPs fared better than New Zealand MPs in terms of attracting followers on Twitter, but this is largely due to the Liberal Partys popularity. As with Facebook, senior MPs dominated Twitter use amongst the Canadian Liberals. Ignatieff was less popular on Twitter, but still had almost 26,000 followers: 30

A demographic breakdown highlights the variances in Twitter use amongst types of MPs, as shown in Figure 1.7.

The importance of Twitter as a means of unmediated communication is confirmed by Michael Ignatieffs surge in popularity following Prime Minister Stephen Harpers unpopular decision to prorogue parliament. Between 14 December 2009, when Ignatieffs Twitter account was first accessed, and 19 January 2010, Ignatieff gained over 11,000 followers. Interestingly, however, he gained fewer than 100 new Facebook friends. This suggests that Twitter offers greater growth potential for MPs than Facebook, although the overall popularity of Facebook must be acknowledged.



Figure 1.7 Twitter use by MP Demographic

Overall, trends in Twitter use tend to conform to those seen in Facebook use: young MPs, women, non-ministers, and opposition MPs were the most likely to use social networking. The age difference is notable, as young MPs are significantly more likely to use Twitter than their older colleagues an effect that was less pronounced in Facebook use. This suggests that Twitter may be viewed more as a site for young people than Facebook, despite Twitters slightly older user profile.

The correlation between seat safety and Twitter use is stronger and more consistent than the measure was for Facebook, even when considering age. This correlation may be due to Twitters limitations users may only broadcast messages of up to 140 characters. This lends itself to short, punchy statements which are similar to campaign sound bites. Thus legislators may view Twitter as a campaign tool rather than a means of ongoing communication and engagement.

Interestingly, there is a greater discrepancy in Twitter use when seat safety is measured at 10 percent MPs who are marginal at this level are more likely to use


Twitter than MPs with majorities of less than five percent, who are less secure. This suggests that Twitter may not be relied upon to deliver votes more marginal MPs may choose to use other media sources that are perceived to deliver more votes. MPs who are relatively safer than this extremely tenuous group may allow themselves more scope to try out new strategies to win votes, such as Twitter.

New and Social Media as a Tool of Political Communication and Engagement in Canada and New Zealand

New and social media are undeniably becoming more important in the political sphere as more and more citizens engage with the internet. The way MPs go about managing their online presence gives strong indications about how they interact with their constituents.

Overall, Canadian MPs made better use of personal websites than New Zealand MPs. The fact that so many Canadian MPs have websites suggests that keeping citizens informed of their day-to-day activities was important for these MPs. Moreover, the ability of websites to facilitate direct contact with MPs and their offices means that maintaining a strong web presence may lead to stronger connections between legislators and their communities.

Centralisation of MPs online presence as seen in the Conservative Party raises questions about the ability of the internet to truly democratise information. Opportunities for backbench MPs to express their personal views in strong party parliamentary systems like Canada and New Zealand are few and far between. The internet provides a genuine opportunity for these views to be expressed. However, if parties control the content of MPs websites, this opportunity for backbench MPs is reduced. As a consequence, the capacity of the internet to bring legislators closer to their constituents may be restricted.

That being said, it is notable that few MPs appeared to view their websites as tools for citizen engagement. The content of websites was overwhelmingly geared for one way communication, from legislator to constituent. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding amongst legislators about the function of websites in the political 30

arena. Websites, if properly constructed, can provide a medium for direct, unmediated communication and engagement between citizens and legislators. The simplest method of engagement requires MPs only to post details about how to become a volunteer. More sophisticated MPs may host live chats, send policy proposals to subscribers, host interactive blogs, and so on. Few MPs in either Canada or New Zealand harnessed this potential, even in its simplest form.

Social networking sites allow MPs to interact with a far broader range of internet users than their personal websites allow. For instance, the news feed feature on Facebook means that every time a user becomes a fan of an MP, this information is broadcast to the users entire network, facilitating more and more users to become fans. By contrast, personal websites provide information only to internet users who choose to visit the site. Moreover, the ability of legislators to utilise groups and events to mobilise supporters means that social networking sites are well suited to campaigntype activities.

Social networking sites, especially Facebook, allow greater interaction between legislators and citizens than do websites. Facebook users are likely to feel a connection with MPs who they add as friends or, conversely, who add them as friends. However, the extent to which MPs foster these connections is not clear. This paper presented some evidence that MPs view social networking sites as campaign, rather than engagement, tools. This is likely in part due to the Obama-effect.

It may be that the means to get MPs to take engagement by way of social networking more seriously is for citizens to demand it. Once they become MPs' friends or followers, citizens are able to easily access their representatives. If citizens utilise these connections and tell MPs what they expect in terms of engagement, legislators assuredly will place greater emphasis on responding and, in turn, facilitating discussion.

This type of engagement has already started to occur on the Red Alert blog hosted by the New Zealand Labour Party. MPs that use this blog appear not only to read comments, but actually respond to them. Sometimes, issues raised in comment streams become the subject of future posts. This is a fine model for other parties and 31

MPs to not only emulate, but also expand. There is no reason that similar interaction could not occur on MPs personal websites and Facebook or Twitter pages.

Barack Obama proved that social networking was invaluable as a campaign tool, but there is no reason why these sites cannot be used to mobilise citizens at any point of the political cycle. Indeed, maintaining informal social connections through sites like Facebook over the course of legislative terms may foster stronger relationships between lawmakers and constituents that lead to even greater mobilisation during election campaigns. Thus MPs who choose to avoid social networking may prove to be foolhardy.

New and social media is likely to become more and more important as a means of communication between legislators and constituents. New and social media provide a forum for legislators to communicate in new and interesting ways with constituents, and that this is an opportunity that MPs ought to embrace.