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Will Twitter Bring the Commons into Disrepute?.
27 Oct 2011
In the 21st century you are what you Tweet, which means in the near future our MPs should be gaining a lot more depth due to a recent Commons’ decision. An amendment that would effectively have banned the use of social networking sites such as Twitter in the chamber was recently defeated by 206 votes to 63. In an age where MPs are increasingly looking to the digital realm to engage with their constituents and voters, the use of social media was deemed on the whole to be important.
In the past MPs had adhered to an unwritten agreement allowing them to use smartphones and tablet computers during proceedings but not laptops. Back in January a deputy Commons Speaker informed MPs they were not to use Twitter. In the run up to the vote that followed, some MPs claimed that those who used devices to monitor and send messages on the social networking site and carry out similar activities could bring proceedings in the chamber into disrepute. It was also stated that MPs should only be allowed to use electronic devises to "receive and send urgent messages". As it stands, the rules have now to been updated to state that devices can be used "provided that they are silent, and used in a way that does not impair decorum". Having been present during a round of Prime Minister’s Questions, it is quite hard to imagine how Twitter may affect decorum any more than the general noisy debate that takes part on a day-to-day basis! In addition, it is planned that MPs will be able to refer to tablet computers or smartphones instead of paper notes when making speeches, but not read from them. They will also be able to use laptops in committee meetings. Another possible advantage of the ruling is that MPs will choose to attend Parliament more regularly as they will be able to service other matters of business at the same time. This can only be seen as a positive move, though of course it will potentially come at the cost of some MPs splitting their attention. Another argument against the use of Twitter was countered by Conservative Roger Gale who pointed out that the use of Twitter could leave MPs open to greater outside influence. He said: "If we are now to suggest that Members are going to be allowed to Twitter and receive comment in the course of these debates then it is absolutely inevitable that you will have people sitting in the public gallery sending messages saying 'ask him this, tell her that, read this,'". With this in mind, it's worth remembering the cash-for-questions debacle of the 90s happened long before Twitter was invented and should an MP choose to dishonourably act on behalf of anyone other than constituents this hardly going to be played out on Twitter. Futhermore, many MPs are already using social networking outside of the Commons to engage with their constituents, which can surely only be seen as a good thing - even if on the part of some it may be merely an attempt to be 'down with the kids'. With only two countries in Europe currently banning the use of Twitter during session, if parliament had chosen to enforce a ban, we could have rightly been seen as being behind the times. So, where do you stand? Will Twitter bring our political establishment into disrepute? - @fayBerg