Social media, politics in odd marriage
Get a bunch of boring, middle-aged politicians to care about their relevance on Twitter and comedy ensues.
Alarmed about its sinking approval ratings as the parliamentary and presidential polls approach, the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) is doubling its efforts to massage voters’ egos and acquire itself a young and dynamic image.
The conservative party’s objective is to press its lawmakers to improve their ability to communicate with voters, both on the streets and in cyberspace. However, judging and ranking them by the number of ``followers’’ they garner on Twitter probably isn’t the best way to go at it.
Online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which allow members to send short, 140-character messages called tweets, are dramatically changing the way people communicate, work and play.
The rise of the portable Internet, pushed by the exploding demand for smartphones and touch-screen tablets, is making social media evermore influential in the shaping of opinions. Any time something is brewing, word spreads quickly enough for millions to catch up almost instantly.
The GNP’s recent moves garner rapt attention as it is the biggest political party and taking unusual steps to put social media to its best use.
For the GNP, struggling to shake off its image as an old and crusty party devoted only to the wealthy and social elite, the thought of its lawmakers gaining clout on Twitter is a wet dream.
However, the party appears to have irrevocably damaged its chance at acquiring digital street cred by introducing a social networking service (SNS) index to rate its lawmakers as future parliamentary candidates.
They will be measured by their number of followers on Twitter while committing to the least amount of “followings,” and the scores will influence their chances to represent the party in the upcoming general election.
During the period around the Lunar New Year’s holiday, first-time lawmaker Jeong Ok-im managed the highest score, according to the GNP. Presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye, or the ``Notebook Princess,’’ as she prefers to be called in the blogosphere, has managed to make the upper part of the table.
The ranking system, designed by party leaders after the GNP’s embarrassing defeat in the Seoul mayoral vote in October, suggests that the party continues to be run by people who are still struggling to grasp the Internet.
The scene of GNP lawmakers scrambling to lure Twitter users is not unlike the early-1960s Chinese provincial leaders clambering under Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign, eventually pressured into falsely reporting ever-higher grain production to please their political superiors and win plaudits.
``I can get 100 Twitter followers!’’ ``I can get 200!’’ ``We must all get 1,000!’’
And in other news, Korea hits a new high in gross national stupidity.
There are a variety of ways to measure the overall authority a person has on Twitter and the number of followers someone attracts shouldn’t dictate this. Equally important criteria should be how much interest their postings generate and how much they engage with other users.
Among those with similar number of followers, the politician who has dialogue with the public has to be considered more influential on the social Internet than his peers who use Twitter as a one-way tool. It seems that the GNP has enough lawmakers willing to broadcast their views but not enough who are willing to listen or at least create the illusion that they are.
Just when you thought GNP attempts to seem more in touch with the grassroots couldn’t be more pathetic, the party is now fighting accusations that some legislators are trying to buy Twitter followers.
It’s easy to set up a Twitter account or mass generate them as the social media service doesn’t require a personal verification process to register. There are rumors that Twitter accounts fetch 500,000 won apiece on Internet black market and the GNP was forced to announce that members found to have artificially enhanced their Twitter following will be ruled out as parliamentary candidates.
Communication, according to the first free online dictionary that appears on Google, is defined as the ``imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.’’
It often appears that many GNP lawmakers as well as key members of the Lee Myung-bak government have missed the ``interchange’’ part.
In a background meeting with some Korea Times reporters, a long-time bureaucrat, who has been one of most influential people surrounding President Lee, claimed that the core of the administration’s problems in public communication is that the President doesn’t play golf with journalists often enough. To him, communication seemed to matter less as an exchange of ideas than gagging the noisy rabble.
``I told him several times to go play golf with reporters, but the President would rather spend more time on his duties. Korea is still a place where the most meaningful communication happens on the golf course,’’ he said.
``Let’s say the President and other high-ranked members of Cheong Wa Dae routinely played a few rounds with editors and senior journalists, while lower-ranked staff members went out with junior reporters. The media’s take on the current administration may have been different than it is now.’’
Well, at least one has to admit, these are exactly the kind of comments capable of cooking up a storm on Twitter.