Thursday, March 7, 2013

Social Media Fail?

Irony was in plentiful supply at an Oireachtas meeting this week on social media and new technology. The meeting was practically inaudible thanks in no small part to – new technology. The great and the good of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications were gathered to hold three days of hearings into the ‘evils’ and social media in an effort to combat cyber-bullying. The whole issue of cyber-bullying is a timely one and one that demands to be dealt with in some way without haste. One life lost as a result of cyber-bullying is one life too many. But these committee hearings were viewed somewhat suspiciously by many social media users who felt that they were a knee jerk reaction to recent high profile events. Let’s take a quick look at who is actually on this Oireachtas Committee that will be looking in to the use of social media in Ireland. Its chairman is Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes. Tom is on Twitter but he is not your average user. He rarely if ever engages with other people and any tweets he posts are simply press releases or announcements. Other members of the committee have no social media identity at all – Independent TD Tom Fleming for example. So maybe the real reason for these hearings is to educate the committee on the world of social media? Anyway, top brass in the Internet Safety Authority, Twitter and Facebook have been called before the committee to speak about their roles in social media and they are voices that need to be heard before any rash decisions are made. But the business of the Committee is communications and they even had Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte present on Wednesday who entertained all with a few little anecdotes about his past experience with broadcast communications. He recalled how he was once booked to feature on the Marian Finucane Show on Radio One and – disgracefully – forgot to turn up! When he rang the show to apologise, he admitted he was met with a frosty response. But was quite surprised to hear that the show had already had three members of the public call up to complain what he had said on the show he actually forgot to appear on! For a communications committee, you would think they would get their communications right! For the entire session with Minister Rabbitte, the sound of interference from mobile phone signals drowned out the voices. Were the members tweeting from the Committee rooms? Things got so bad that even RTE was forced to phone the Oireachtas to complain that it would not be able to use any material from the hearing because of the interference from the phones. It seems that we need to teach our politicians more than just the A, B Cs of social media – but we need to teach them to turn their phones off when they are near a microphone. Communications? You are having a laugh!