Interview: Alberto Nardelli, creator of Tweetminster.co.uk
Tweetminster.co.uk is a service running off the back of micro-blogging site Twitter.
Aggregating the tweets of all ministers and MPs into one page, as well as adding commentary and reposting links to Parliamentary news, Tweetminster provides real-time micro-reporting on Parliament.
Rachel Charman met Tweetminster creator Alberto Nardelli to discuss the way the historic dynamic between communications, technology and politics is changing.
“Technology has changed politics. I believe that technology as a tool has a fundamental role to play in improving the way we share information and get involved.”
Alberto Nardelli is certainly no stranger to politics or technology. The 29-year-old entrepreneur has a background in both.
One of his first jobs out of university was with Canadian-based organisation Taking It Global, working on a platform that empowered young activists and specifically working on UN processes.
Returning to themes of his work, Nardelli says:
“Differently from most people, I don’t believe that young people or people in general don’t care about issues.
“I think that they do care, and they do want to make a difference and get involved; they just need the right tools to be meaningfully engaged. “
This belief is the inspiration behind Nardelli’s brainchild, Tweetminster.
Since its inception last year, response has been impressive, considering the often-lamented sluggishness of political participation in the UK.
“Tweetminster was set up with a very simple mission: to connect voters with MPs,” Nardelli explains.
“Twitter is an exceptional tool to allow people to connect directly and immediately, and it’s very easy to use.
“In a world like politics where the interaction between politicians and people isn’t great, and it’s always intermediated by the party or by the media, Tweetminster is an opportunity for voters and politicians to directly interact.
“When we launched [in December 2008] there were five MPs using Twitter; there are now 56.
“So just under 10% of MPs are using Twitter, plus 70 prospective Parliamentary candidates, and it’s going to become much bigger in the run up to the next election.”
All of this sounds very exciting, but how much will lofty ideals about the people reclaiming political power through the internet actually be realised?
Just because politicians have the ability to read and respond to other users’ posts and comments does not mean that they will.
Twitter, like every other medium, could simply be another place to broadcast party propaganda.
Nardelli is more optimistic about the use of the social bookmarking site.
“There is a mix of use,” he admits.
“You’ve got politicians who basically use it very poorly to broadcast their messages, but others who are more engaging.
“Some actually talk to people about issues and respond with their opinions.
“What’s refreshing is that the MPs who are more engaging online are actually the ones who have more followers, have more people interacting with them and have greater visibility, so their efforts are rewarded by people who appreciate it.”
All this talk of openness prompts me to tell Nardelli a story about my local UKIP PPC, who uses Twitter to abuse anyone who asks him a question with frankly inappropriate language.
This leads on to the tricky area nobody really knows about; online etiquette.
Are social networks a place where there are completely different rules about what should and should not be said, especially by politicians?
“Because twitter is less formal than traditional media, it is more relaxed, and I think that’s a good thing,” Nardelli says.
“You get to understand people better, even if they try to control what they say.
“In this specific example, I guess that’s a good thing because everyone will now know what that candidate really is about.”
So, does this mean that people will return to participating in politics in the UK, and will they do it in the traditional ways?
With historically low voter turnout, it may take more that a few tweets to shove the electorate back to the ballot box, but Nardelli is more interested in the bigger picture.
“I think lots of people are involved in politics, just not as you would traditionally conceive it through voting and so on.
“They are participating in campaigns, petitions, or entrepreneurially solving issues without having to go to the policy process; they’re taking issues into their own hands.
“In terms of low voter turnout, I think that does have a lot to do with the way politics involves people.
“Politicians tend to speak to people as if they are children, instead of talking about issues in a mature way, especially when it comes to young people.
“People then feel disillusioned and disengaged with that type of politics, and so they don’t vote.
“But what happened in the US [with Obama’s election] was interesting because if you have a different kind of campaign, with different processes to involve people, you get millions of volunteers and you get record turnouts at elections.”
So what of Barack Obama and his seemingly magical campaign? Much has been made of his use of technology, but how much of it was the man and how much the machines?
“It’s not technology that won the election for Obama,” Nardelli says decisively.
“It’s the fact that you had a charismatic individual, with strong, powerful ideas, and he treated people as adults in the sense that it was less about him and more about making society a better place.
“He used technology to deliver those messages, and to compliment the way those messages are delivered, and the consequences of those messages.
“That’s very different from just going on YouTube and doing a webcast.”
Going on YouTube and doing a webcast, as Nardelli put it, caused a stir in the UK when David Cameron began doing so.
The Tories were quickly proclaimed to be far more engaging to the public than Labour. Are the Conservatives winning on the tech side of things?
“Independent of the value of each party’s ideas, Labour is less effective at conveying what its message is,” Nardelli says.
“Look for example at the expenses scandal.
“The actions Labour and the Conservatives took were actually very similar, but the Conservatives were much better at conveying their message in one line, so, what you have is the impression that what the Tories did was very different.”
In short, Nardelli does not claim that the web, or social networking specifically, is the magic bullet that will pull together political participation.
He does believe, however, that it provides people with an understanding of it with great potential.
Entry filed under: Interviews. Tags: Alberto Nardelli, Commons, Conservative, David Cameron, Digital Britain, digital engagement, internet, Labour, Lib Dems, Lords, PPC, Rachel Charman, Tweetminister, Twitter, UKIP, Webcameron, YouTube.