Monday, June 22, 2009

Twittering MPs in Parliament?

If you all have read today's Straits Times (or Lianhe Zaobao, since there is a similar, albeit lengthier, article there), you all would most likely notice the article ("To get feedback, why not Twitter in the House?", ST, 22/6/2009) reporting about Mr. Teo Ser Luck (a wearer of many hats, this man is, in light of how he is concurrently a MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, the mayor for North East CDC, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for MCYS & MOT and the chairman of Young PAP) suggesting that local MPs should perhaps utilise Twitter to garner and provide real-time feedback about parliamentary proceedings.

For those of you all who have not read the article and/or do not subscribe to the Straits Times/Lianhe Zaobao, Mr. Teo, speaking at a Young PAP forum on new media and politics, basically suggested that since "MPs already send text messages to one another in Parliament, it would not be too far a stretch for them" to use Twitter as a medium to provide and garner real-time feedback about parliamentary proceedings.

Hmm... It appears to me that Mr. Teo's suggestion was perhaps inspired by a recent news report about how Malaysian MPs have been using Twitter to provide real-time coverage of proceedings within the Malaysian Parliament.

While Mr. Teo may just be thinking aloud when he made the above suggestion (thus implying that we will not actually witness local MPs using Twitter in Parliament anytime soon), I think it is important for us to think about this question: do we need or want Twittering MPs?

Well, for me, the answer to the above question would be "No" as I do not think it will be a good idea for MPs to be using Twitter while a parliamentary sitting is in session; it may be alright for them to use Twitter outside of Parliament House but I do not think they should be doing so in Parliament.

Twittering MPs = Distracted MPs?

Why do I think that MPs should not be "twittering" in Parliament?

Firstly, I suppose that Twittering MPs will most likely become distracted MPs. I mean, is it not the duty and responsibility of MPs to be focused and paying attention when they are attending a parliamentary sitting? In light of this, do we really want MPs to be using or checking their Twitter accounts (or emails, RSS news feeds, SMSes, Facebook updates and etc) on their 3G/3.5G mobile phones when they are attending a parliamentary sitting?

While some may perhaps argue that Twittering MPs need not necessarily be distracted MPs or that they will only be distracted long enough to compose 140 characters long "tweets" even if they are distracted, I would think any form of possible distraction that may distract MPs from fulfilling their duties in Parliament should not be encouraged.

Seeing how we already have MPs who doze off during parliamentary sessions, do we really also want MPs who may be distracted by their Twitter accounts?

"Brevity is the soul of wit" or "sound bite politics"?

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, it would seem to me that if we start having Twittering MPs in Parliament, we may find ourselves in the situation in which "sound bite politics" could take dominance locally.

By "sound bite politics", I refer to politicians and the public being caught up in slogans, quotable quotes and one-liners, thereby perhaps reducing, if not trivialising, serious and complex issues into mere sound bites.

Also, in light of how Twitter perhaps thrive on its ability to provide real-time, if not instant, updates, I am concerned that we may start to unrealistically, if not unfairly, demand continuous real-time/instant updates and responses from politicians on issues that may require long and serious consideration.

Of course, there may be those of you all who may argue that "sound bite politics" is already in place in Singapore. But if so, I suppose Twitter, with its 140 characters limit, would perhaps exacerbate people's fixation with sound bites.

And, of course, some of you all may argue that "brevity is the soul of wit" and Twitter would force politicians to stop giving long-winded speeches and answers (or non-answers) but to start giving more precise and concise statements; we have enough of politicians who indulge in circumlocution, haven't we?

However, while I also am no fan of overly-verbose politicians, I, at the same time, am in agreement with this statement of Albert Einstein: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler". And thus, I am concerned that Twitter would perhaps not only make issues as simple as possible to understand but also over-simplify complicated issues.

Likewise, I am of the opinion that while it is fair for the public to demand the authorities to provide swifter action on certain issues, it should also be recognised that certain issues require enough space and time before proper action or decisions can be taken on them.

Hence, just as how Professor Kishore Mahbubani (quoting Infosys founder, Mr.Narayana Murthy) pointed out, in a recent interview with Channel NewsAsia, that people tend to "mistake articulation for achievements", we should be wary to not mistake brevity for wit and/or mistake swift action for proper action.

Do we need or want Twittering MPs?

In conclusion, do we need or want Twittering MPs in Singapore? No but I guess we do need and want MPs who fulfil their duties and responsibilities.

Thus, in light of the above, it should be recognised that, as Mr. Christopher de Souza rightly pointed out at the YPAP forum, people expect their MPs to engage them, to reflect their viewpoints and to help them. Twitter, along with other social media platforms, is perhaps just a tool that may facilitate MPs to fulfil these expectations/responsibilities; we should not mistake the using of a tool for fulfilling responsibilities. I may use a power saw to saw wood but that does not make me a better carpenter than someone using a simple handsaw.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Twittering might be a way to keep them awake and I suggest MPs to twitter away on who is caught napping in the parliamentary seating. That way, the MPs are all on their toes! haha

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