This tweet from Arif Ansari, the BBC North West political editor got me thinking today:
I’ve no idea how much truth there is in the claim made by the Lib Dems in Manchester. It is worth noting there are far fewer elected Lib Dems in Manchester thanks to strong case of coalition fallout at the local elections in May.
Nigel Barlow, the founder of the Inside the M60 site, posted the entire press release on his new blog, ‘Procrastinating Politicians‘
The ‘official’ account follows 168 people; which include six Labour City Councillors, the account for Manchester Labour (@ManchesterRose) and Manchester’s Labour MEP, Arlene McCarthy. The official account does not follow a single Liberal Democrat Councillor or politician despite many having twitter accounts.
But does it really matter? To the Lib Dems, it clearly does – and that poses a dilemma for journalists.
Every reporter is encouraged to make use of social networks to interact with contacts and their communities, be they geographical of subject-specific communities. A question I get reasonably frequently is ‘Does a follow (on Twitter) or liking someone (on Facebook) make it look as though I’m biased?’
My answer, up until now, has always been ‘no.’ After all, ‘liking’ a campaign group on Facebook for professional purposes is no more a sign of being biased towards the campaign than attending a protest to report on it. At least that’s my belief. The word ‘like’ from Facebook perhaps muddies things a little, but it’s just a mechanism to get information, right?
Likewise, following a politician or a campaign group on Twitter doesn’t mean you’re show bias towards them – it just means you’ll more likely to see what they say, and that’s surely no different than speaking to them.
Retweeting things campaign groups or those sitting on one side of the argument poses a different set of challenges – but nothing which can’t be clarified with clever editing of the Tweet.
The Lib Dem criticism of Manchester City Council is perhaps a reminder to journalists that on social media, you have to be prepared to justify your actions – even something as simple as the click of a ‘follow’ or ‘like’ button.
Note: I’ve removed a reference to Manchester’s social media manager because the role doesn’t exist.