Politicians delve into Twitter to try to bridge gap withcitizensAugust 18, 2012 01:03 AMBy Justin SalhaniThe Daily StarBEI...
of tweets, while Sleiman ranked 15th. Meanwhile, a new crop of politicians eager to interactwith the public has emerged.Th...
dissatisfaction and frustration with the current electricity situation in Lebanon.Some Lebanese Twitter users took matters...
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The Daily Star: Politicians delve into Twitter to try to bridge gap with citizens

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"... inspiring social media monitoring website Think Media Labs to begin tracking Lebanese politicians’ involvement on Twitter. Almost a year later, Hariri, Sleiman and Mikati’s Twitter interaction continues, though it has admittedly lost some momentum."

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The Daily Star: Politicians delve into Twitter to try to bridge gap with citizens

  1. 1. Politicians delve into Twitter to try to bridge gap withcitizensAugust 18, 2012 01:03 AMBy Justin SalhaniThe Daily StarBEIRUT: When news broke in late 2011 that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri wasresponding to his followers on Twitter, the initial reaction of many people was skepticism.But after a few sessions of tweeting in (not quite flawless) English, it became clear that theFuture Movement leader was serious about using the social media platform to engage withLebanese citizens. President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati soon followedsuit, inspiring social media monitoring website Think Media Labs to begin tracking Lebanesepoliticians’ involvement on Twitter. Almost a year later, Hariri, Sleiman and Mikati’s Twitterinteraction continues, though it has admittedly lost some momentum.Meanwhile, TML has continued to follow their and other Lebanese politicians’ Twitter habits. InJuly, 2012, Hariri and Mikati were ranked eighth and ninth respectively regarding their number
  2. 2. of tweets, while Sleiman ranked 15th. Meanwhile, a new crop of politicians eager to interactwith the public has emerged.The Daily Star communicated via email with three of the Lebanese politicians who ranked inthe top five for number of tweets – according to a July poll conducted by TML – in order toinquire about their reasons for using Twitter. The politicians are: Telecommunications MinisterNicolas Sehnaoui (ranked second), Democratic Renewal Movement Secretary-GeneralAntoine Haddad (ranked third) and Beirut MP Nadim Gemayel (ranked fifth).For citizens, interacting with politicians on Twitter is a way to try to extract a comment oranswer to a question from a public figure. But what do politicians have to gain from using theplatform?“Twitter is a modern means of communication,” said Sehnaoui.He added that a minister should know how people are reacting to his performance as well askeep apprised of the needs and problems of his constituents.For his part, Gemayel said that “social media and Twitter are useful for a politician” due to theirability to “bridge the gap between the [politician] and the citizens.”Gemayel added that Twitter allowed the politician to receive direct feedback “without amediator,” meaning that he gets a “clear idea about their demands and needs.”Haddad, who tweets in English, Arabic and French, also emphasized the interactive dimensionof Twitter by saying that it allows politicians to engage with people they might not normally beable to meet with in person.Despite the benefits of interaction, some politicians lament that there is a downside to Twitter.Sehnaoui said that one annoyance is the limit of 140 characters to a tweet, preventing detailedexplanations of complicated subjects. Conversely, he said that on busy days he was unable torespond to followers – something they tend to dislike.“Because Twitter is a public sphere, we politicians have critics and detractors who address usdirectly,” said Haddad. “This could be very interesting, and sometimes inspiring, as long astweets stay within the boundaries of online ‘etiquette’” he said, adding that tweeters sometimeshurl abuse at politicians via the website.Recently, a group of Lebanese began trending a hashtag with the slogan #BlameBassil, areference to Energy Minister Gebran Bassil.Though the language used in the majority of tweets was not abusive, it demonstrated
  3. 3. dissatisfaction and frustration with the current electricity situation in Lebanon.Some Lebanese Twitter users took matters even further, blaming Bassil for situations out of hiscontrol, such as summer almost being over and a player not receiving a red card in aEuropean football match.The criticism led Bassil – who, incidentally, was ranked No. 1 in terms of tweets in TML’s Julypoll – to respond with an emotional tweet of his own: “#BlameBassil 4 what? For trying to fixthing[s]? For not accepting the reality of corruption in this country? If so, please keep blaming.”While the negative aspects of social media may annoy politicians, the benefits seem tooutweigh the bad, as evidenced by the fact that Twitter has almost become a necessity forthem.“In the third millennium ... communication messages have increased in number and shortenedin length to become one or two sentences long to accommodate ... a world where the quantityof information has increased exponentially. A politician should remain close to the peoplewhether as a minister or a representative,” explained Sehnaoui.From Hariri to Bassil, Twitter is a vital tool for the politicians of Lebanon to engage with theirconstituents and remain attuned to public opinion.It is also an important means of enhancing ordinary Lebanese citizens’ access to the politicalsystem.While politicians often enjoy celebrity status in Lebanon, Twitter enables users to feel asthough they are talking to an equal.“We are all equal users on social media,” said Haddad. “Every user could be a politician,everyone could be a journalist.” – With additional reporting by Michelle Maalouf Copyrights 2011, The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved 18/08/2012

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