Social media has often been touted as increasing our political engagement. A recent Pew Survey found that more social media users are following politicians on Twitter and Facebook and many more are seeking political discussions and views on this new medium. Engagement, however, is a two-way dialogue. One can measure engagement by looking at not only the number of followers, but also the number of actual discussions occurring between the electorate and the politicians.
A recent BBC article on the UK political scene indicates that the level of engagement may not be as high as expected.
The article suggests that while followership has increased, the level of engagement has not been dramatic. Of course, we cannot expect the Prime Minister of a G7 country to reply to every tweet, but no replies in an entire month by David Cameron indicates that social media may not be as raw of a political forum as were the town halls of the past.
Rather than hail social media as a new way to engage directly with politicians, we should be more realistic about the utility of social media. Social media can and is increasing political debate. But this dialogue is happening within the electorate than between the electorate and politicians. This within-electorate dialogue is nevertheless very important and beneficial to the healthy functioning of our democracies. What this also means is that physical forums, such as town halls, rallies, etc., are still incredibly valuable in engaging with politicians. I continue to profess that social media is not a replacement for the things of old, but a nice complement to our old ways.