Our tweeting MPs seem to be more productive in Parliament and more connected with voters — but pollies beware, social media can trip you up badly.

Analysis by Bond University students and Crikey found that MPs in the federal House of Representatives who use Facebook and Twitter are more likely to ask questions in Parliament than their offline counterparts. They are also more likely to make constituency statements and speeches in private members’ time. Does social networking facilitate a connection between MPs and voters?

Twitter use was also linked to the number of speeches an MP made, with Twitter users making an average of 54.3 speeches on legislation, compared with 40.2 for non-tweeters.

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Some 62% of Australia’s 150 lower-house MPs have a Facebook account, and 59% have a Twitter account (and social media users were on average six years younger than those who didn’t use the sites). While the level of activity and interaction varies, academics expect social media to be an important factor in the lead-up to the September 14 election.

But journalist and journalism academic at the University of Canberra Julie Posetti, who is doing a PhD on the “Twitterisation” of journalism, says social media alone does not win votes. She told Crikey:

“I think what we will see is with this election is a significant increase in the kind of politicking and voter engagement that we witnessed at the 2010 election, which was not as widespread as I anticipated. I think that largely had to do with the change of leadership of major parties to less social-media-active leaders in the form of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.They were more reluctant participants and there was more trepidation on the part of their teams and campaigns, with regard to supporting online connections with voters and communities.”

Australia’s youngest MP, 23-year-old Liberal Wyatt Roy, says social media shows voters you are representing them nationally. “Politics has become more competitive, and you are competing in a much more difficult media environment because of the 24 hour media cycle due to social media, because of a diversity in media outlets,” he told Crikey.

<roy , who has a web app, says people who are hesitant to call him might be more comfortable with using Facebook to write on his wall or send him a message. His app has a “local alert” tool where constituents can post a photograph an area in need of improvement.

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull also has an app, featuring news and Twitter feeds, a discussion forum and videos. 

Social media use does not always go well, however. In 2012, Liberal backbenchers were encouraged by their party to refrain from posting on social media forums and in some cases delete their accounts. Aussiepollies reported the decision was made to limit “stuff-ups and scandals”.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and backbencher Kevin Rudd have the highest number of followers and fans on Facebook and Twitter.

Rudd’s posts include his involvement with locals, and videos featuring his speeches in Parliament. Gillard uses an interactive approach by encouraging her followers and friends to like and share her posts that include day-to-day encounters.

The significant effect of social media on politics was seen in the 2012 US election when a record 31.7 million political tweets were posted on Twitter.

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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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