Graham Watson MEP - CC / Flickr
Graham Watson MEP - CC / Flickr

A post at Tom Harris MP’s blog caught my eye this morning in which he cites comments by Graham Watson MEP that it’s actually his wife writing his Twitter feed on his behalf, and that he has asked staff to hoover up Facebook friends for him.

Quite frankly I don’t know what to make of Watson’s frank admission! It has started a discussion on Twitter involving Nosemonkey, NEurope, EUlondonrep and MacarenaRG about what role politicians’ staff should play in doing online work for them.

There are for sure politicians that are much worse with regard to use of their staff for online engagement – Martin Schulz, wannabe PES President of the EP, has 4575 friends on Facebook – I rather suspect he doesn’t know too many of these people and I do wonder if he has ever logged on to Facebook himself. Maybe if someone working for him has Google Alerts setup they might reply in the comments? Anders Fogh Rasmussen has a better strategy, using a supporter page effectively rather than simply befriending people.

All of this leads me to the main issue: there are different ways for politicians to use social media, and ways for them to make it clear who is doing what.

I inherently want someone calling themselves ‘Harriet Harman’ on Facebook to actually be Harriet Harman; if I want to support Harriet Harman and do not know her I’ll join a Facebook Group or a supporter page. That’s the reason why there was no Harriet Harman profile on Facebook for the Deputy Leadership campaign*; she was not using Facebook herself at the time, so groups were the solution. The same applies to Twitter – if I follow grahamwatsonmep I hope that it’s actually Watson himself behind it. If it’s his campaign team then run watsonforpresident in Twitter (or something equivalent).

The same applies to blogging – Harriet wrote her own blog during the Labour Deputy Leadership campaign, sometimes with spelling errors, prompting accusations in the blog comments that she was employing someone that could not spell. Well the errors too were actually genuine. I don’t think it’s legitimate to expect a politician to read everything that every other blogger writes about them online (employees can compile summaries for example), but I think it’s a perfectly decent expectation that if there is a blog in the name of the politician that they at least write the content for it. In Brussels I do think that Margot Wallström gets it and that her blog is genuine.

So for me the bottom line is this: Facebook profile, Twitter in the politician’s name, and a personal blog should be done by the politician themselves. Groups, pages, Twitter for campaigns, analysis of web content elsewhere are the places that staff should be involved.

(* – there is now, but I have nothing to do with it)


  1. Exactly. Especially when there are politicians who are using social media to effectively push decent legislation.

    FWIW, I met the guy who does the background work on Nick’s account at Lib Dem spring conference, and he agrees with you Jon, if he’s replying or sending invites, he always makes it clear it’s from him or not from Nick. So if you get something from Nick, it’s from Nick unless it says otherwise, which is I think the right way of doing it.

  2. Thanks for the re-assurance I suppose…

    “Luckily for all of us, he does not spend his days chatting away on Facebook, but deals with serious political issues such as pushing for effective action to counter the recession” sounds rather condescending towards anyone that does use social media though!

  3. Silvia Pelz, Socialist Group

    It’s a fact of life. Politicians have staff to assist them with the smooth running of daily affairs. They have people who answer their phone, read and reply to their emails and manage their calendars. Martin Schulz is no exception. Luckily for all of us, he does not spend his days chatting away on Facebook, but deals with serious political issues such as pushing for effective action to counter the recession.
    Due to time constraints he may not be able to regularly type his own status messages or answer every request in person, but he takes a close interest in his Facebook account and receives regular updates on incoming messages.
    Martin Schulz is very enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by new media and social networks like Facebook – they open up the political space and allow two-way communication. This week he strongly welcomed Facebook’s introduction of Arabic as a contribution to intercultural understanding. If the messages posted on his wall are any indication, his to date 5000 Facebook friends greatly appreciate the possibility to closely follow the activities of a leading European politician and communicate with him.

  4. Kevin Peel

    I found your blog because the names of a couple of the Labour euro candidates in the North West had escaped me but I’m glad I stumbled on it! I agree with your point here – I get frustrated when I get updates from certain MPs on Facebook that are clearly from their staff – if you’re going to have a Facebook profile, do it yourself! Get closer to the people! :o)

  5. It appears that politicos are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Yes it would be ideal if all poiticians who have a social networking space of any sort operate it themselves, but frankly that is going to be impossible with the level of commitments they are faced with.

    That being said, if things are being said or done in their name then they better trust absolutely who is doing it for them, as anything that is put in their name is, at least their responsibility.

    Do we think that all the articles in the MSM ‘writtern’ by politicians are written by them, do we think that their speeches are written by them, of course not. So why should we be so surprised or dissapointed when their Twitter feeds and so on are not entirely self authored?

  6. I think it depends on the content or image that the politicians want to promote via different platforms: A Twitter account or blog that rather promote general information, movements, statements etc. do not need to be written by the person. I could also imagine that you could tell your personal impressions to someone you trust and let these words be typed and (after confirmation) published by staff or family members. If this is the most efficient way of transporting your message, then why not?

    I have to say that I prefer to have more personal, self-written accounts, because this raises the credibility of the respective persons in my eyes, but in the end I am not forced to follow the tweed or blog if I am not interested in what they have to say – and I therefore just prefer to know who writes what, because it will strongly influence the way I read the news I get via these channels.

  7. Not sure I agree completely. Partial agreement, yes, but not full.

    Before Nick Clegg became LD leader, he was an open and avowed fan of Facebook and ran his own profile, etc. Now, he simply doesn’t have time to do all of it, so some of the work is done on his behalf. I know he still usess it himself, but the event invites and similar are done by people he trusts.

    I’m in the process of setting up Twitter accounts for my two local PPCs. I’ll do all the backend stuff, feed them to the websites, and help them map it to their Facebook profile but they’ll upate via text (ie we’re using it as an app, not an SN itself). If I update for them, I’ll probably say “Diane is” or put my name to it (or just staff).

    Conversely, I know that some MPs that do use their own get reactions in which people assume it’s actually their staff doing it, not them.

    Politicians have many many demands on their time, and if they find something useful but don’t have the time to dedicate to it to get it right, having someone they trust do it at least partially is fine by me. Especially in the case of a known husband/wife partnership, Graham’s always made it clear his wife is part of his team, if either Jennie or I are elected to anything, it’ll be clear that you’re getting the other as well.

    A lot of politicians get complaints from others that they’re “messing about online”, I know that my personal PPC has almost zero personal time, and the local party are very insistent that I or other volunteers do her web based stuff. for every net enthusiast voter such as yourself, there’s likely a different voter that thinks the politician should be doing something else, like running a surgery or similar.

  8. I totally agree, if a politician wants to be on Facebook or Twitter, he’d better write himself! The Internet is a great way for politicians to be really transparent, but this is getting odd if they pretend to be active while the job is done by their wives or interns.
    A good compromise could be like Coldplay ( does: the real author signs each twitt with his name, not the idea solution, but at least they’re honnest!

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