Facebook has taken the whole world by a storm.
It has managed to turn things upside down, with people using the social media platform to convey their messages, share their photos, argue, gossip, and open up about their lives.
Facebook came in handy to serve as a platform for one to share whatever is on their mind. People speak frankly, and sometimes, perhaps, too much. They debate and rebut others and voice their concerns and anger instantly.
Taking Facebook into the political context, it may look like ancient Athens, the cradle of democracy, when leaders used to take to the streets and open spaces to gauge citizens’ opinions.
Today, everyone is free to write whatever they want without bothering to get out of their home or wherever they are, by simply using their smart phone.
Even traditional media have been impacted by the huge popularity of social media platforms as people obtain their news and latest headlines from Facebook, where they can give their opinion straight away.
This of course has its pros and cons, not least when it comes to politicians and people in the public sphere.
Politicians are using these social media platforms to advertise their work but also to let people into their world. Posts are becoming more personal, and this could be because the engagement from such posts is way better than uploading a picture of a visit in some workplace, or of the politician delivering a speech.
But sometimes lines are crossed.
Politicians, understanding the strength of such a tool that only a few years back was considered to be popular mostly with the younger generation, has now captured a far greater cohort of our society that are using Facebook extensively.
We’ve all seen Facebook posts uploaded by politicians that seem to have vied for the mediocre and funny award at the same time. It is no secret that certain politicians are so infatuated with Facebook that they do not think enough, or at all, before uploading. They measure their digital strategy simply by the amount of likes and engagements they garner, and not by the quality of their content.
It is no secret that certain politicians are so infatuated with Facebook that they do not think enough, or at all, before uploading.
I do understand that it is important for a politician to convey a message of normality to his constituents, and to reaffirm they have at least one foot on the ground. But they really should do so with caution.
Yes, politicians should use this space, especially in an era in which television, radio and newspapers are becoming less relevant in terms of campaigning.
But there are certain instances in which one must be careful. The featuring of minors for example, is a very delicate matter and whilst it’s a good thing to have pictures of the whole family together, one still has to analyse the impact on their lives, and their everyday routine when too much exposure is hanging in the balance.
The nature of posts written by politicians or even their teams should also be carefully thought through. A lot of statuses are verging on provocative, bad-tempered, and intended to harm fellow politicians or else to create a greater divide between different parties.
Of course, there are also responsibilities for those who comment on such posts, and should never resort to hate speech, mudslinging, blasphemy, or personal attacks.
One thing, however, is certain. Despite its importance in everyday life, politics should not be carried out by looking at other people’s statutes, but by enabling direct contact. Personal contact will certainly give a very different tinge from the one on the social media platform.
Politicians, like the Opposition in Malta, cannot continue to make statements based on comments from Facebook, from hearsay, or by fabricating a story out of a 50-word status. It is good to gauge, but meeting people, families, stakeholders in our society is still the answer for the drafting of policies and for the shaping of our future.