On politicians and social media

Toute L’Europe and the Goethe Institute in Paris invited me to be part of a panel about the affect of social media on politics. While the topic in itself is certainly not new, I decided to go, because it was a good opportunity to dive into the French debate.

As you would expect, the Goethe Institute is a very gracious host and the organization is just as good. Still, the setup of the panel was … shall we say, ambitious? Six people is too many for every panel and for me it was especially interesting, since I was the only one who doesn’t speak any French. But first things first, here is the list of all the panelists:

  • Estelle Grelier, EU-Delegate (Faction S & D / EP)
  • Sandrine Bélier, EU-Delegate (Faction The Greens / EP)
  • Jan Philipp Albrecht, EU-Delegate (Faction The Greens / EP)
  • Alain Girod, Professor at the University Lyon II, Director of the Instituts for Communication Lyon II (ICOM)
  • Benoît Thieulin, Co-founder of Netscouade (Internet Agency, specialized on Social Web and Community)
  • Igor Schwarzmann, Co-founder of Third Wave in Berlin

Together with the moderator, we ended up being eight people on stage, since I could only participate in the discussion with the help of a translator. A new experience for me, but it worked out just fine. At least for the important parts of the discussions. Obviously, I couldn’t catch the small nuances, which made it a bit difficult to get into a real discussion. Then again, on a panel with so many people there isn’t much room for debate anyhow.

What discourages me to accept further invitations to panels about social media and politics is the lack of progress in the discussion. France – in this particular case at least – not different from Germany. The whole premise of the discussion is based on the wrong questions. It’s definitely not about the tools, services and platforms that a politician uses and it’s not about how those politicians need to find the exactly right tone without giving up too much privacy. That’s the boring part of the discussion.

We are living in a time, where we can watch revolutions unfold on the internet while our policy makers still struggle to understand the impact of it all. And more often than not, they seem not only very reluctant to dive into the topic, but actually are part of the problem. By making decision without any appreciation what has developed without their involvement, they only increase the overall impressions that most of them aren’t prepared to govern in the 21st century.

I ended up saying something that I read a couple of years on a blog of a social media consultant (imagine that!):

If your product is shit, it will still be shit on social media.

Same goes for politics, dear politicians. It’s moot to discuss if it’s important to be clueless on Television or Twitter, in the end you are still clueless. Start listening to what is being said and stop planing your next campaign and how you might or might not use Facebook for it.

P.S.: While I’m rather harshly generalizing the discussion, there are of course exceptions with a deep understanding. One of which was on the panel: Jan Philipp Albrecht.

Author: Igor

Igor likes to connect the dots. As a strategic consultant in an increasingly complex world, he favours broad knowledge over specialisation. In the last five years, he helped shape strategic decisions at large corporations like Deutsche Postbank AG and Deutsche Telekom AG as well as at startups like Amen and refund.me. In his work he is focusing always on finding the appropriate solutions as well as the people who will be executing upon his advice. Beside the consulting work, Igor speaks at international conferences on variety of topics (SXSW, PICNIC, re:publica, etc.).