Excellent point Mark. I have been blogging for about 6 months and I have found the audience point is a tricky one as you say. Blogging, rather than tweeting, gives the author an opportunity to flesh out any disagreements he or she may have with the party and include the nuances which throw up a difference of emphasis, rather than wholesale opposition, in a constructive way. One hopes that non-party members can see this as a healthy sign of a party strong enough to have these debates, though I would agree that the internet has presented us with a problem that did not exist before. Better to debate in the open, in a mature way, than to go mute.
There’s been an interesting debate over the last few days about the state of Liberal Democrat blogging, triggered by a thought-provoking piece from Jonathan Calder about the Lib Dem Voice Blog of the Year Awards and with a recent contribution from my Lib Dem Voice Co-Editor colleague Stephen Tall, which includes a good round-up of links to other people’s contributions to the debate.
Much of what I would say has already either been said by others or is in my comment on Jonathan’s piece. There is, though, one related point which has gone unmentioned.
As people’s use of social media is evolving, we’re increasingly used to the idea that there are issues about where the dividing line between people’s private and public lives lies. However, for those who support a political party there is also another tricky dividing line: that between comments and contributions aimed at an internal party audience and those aimed at an external public one.
This divide use to be a fairly simple one for nearly all party members nearly all of the time. You might argue over your party’s policy at a local party meeting and go out and deliver leaflets to the public the day after. What you wouldn’t do is to hand over the leaflet to the public and at the same time say, “But you know, that story on page 2 is all wrong. We should be saying the opposite and I hope our next conference will change our position”. On some occasions the divide was blurred – for example if writing a piece for Liberator or other similar magazines – but those were the exceptions.
Now, however, the internet -and especially social media – is increasingly blurring the lines between those two scenarios. If you send a tweet is it the equivalent of the internal party meeting or the public doorstep encounter? Often it’s a bit of both and knowing it’s a bit of both has an impact on what you say.
The same applies to blogging too, and I suspect part of the trend we’ve seen in the Liberal Democrats over the last few years is more and more local councillors and campaigners see the benefits of blogging aimed at their local community (aided by ALDC’s MyCouncillor system) and as a result increasingly see their online activities as aimed at the public.
That means when there’s a big public story, they tend to focus on the positive aspects of what the party has done, rather than getting into a debate online with other Liberal Democrats about its merits or otherwise. That makes sense for their local audiences; it has the side-effect of also deadening some of those early years vibrancy amongst Liberal Democrat bloggers when it was often much of an internal conversation.
It also means for bloggers and non-bloggers alike, there is a regular question about who their comments are best aimed at. The public is more likely to vote for united parties; healthy internal democracy requires the airing of conflicting views. Reconciling those two pressures can be tricky.