SOCIAL media will play a greater role in the build-up to next month’s General Election than ever before. Such has been the growth in the importance of Facebook and Twitter across society that politicians will ignore them at their peril. It is said that the election of 2010 was the first in which the use of social media had a substantial impact on the way in which, political contests in this country are fought, but it is unlikely to compare to the focus placed on it this time round. Many election hopefuls will use social media to share their message and priorities with potential voters, but all will have to be careful they do not post anything that could harm their prospects and be seized upon by opponents. However, fellow social media users can never be sure which of the posts has been posted and vetted by election teams, and which have been made off the cuff by the candidates themselves. The hottest topics of the election issues of the campaign will of course feature strongly.
For example, the most recent three posts on the Facebook page of Sir Roger Gale, who has held the Thanet North seat for the Conservatives since 1983, relate to Manston airport, arguably the most contentious issue in the constituency over the past year. Ukip rival Piers Wauchope does not have a Facebook page, instead opting for a personal profile. The same is true for both Labour’s Frances Rehal. But once ‘friended’ with Ms Rehal, you see that she has not used Facebook prolifically, just having shared two videos since her selection as Labour candidate. She has been more active on Twitter, though, where she blames the Tories for the closure of Manston airport and says there should be more women in politics. She also makes a number of attacks on Ukip leader Nigel Farage, even though he is standing for election in neighbouring Thanet South. Green Party candidate Ed Targett uses his Facebook profile to guide people to his website, where he suggests that plans to develop Manston as something other than airport might not be so awful. Mr Targett is also on Twitter and, although not tweeting solely on politics, makes several comments on the subject of Manston airport.
Liberal Democrat candidate George Cunningham is a keen user of Facebook and visitors to his page ‘George Cunningham for North Thanet’ can see just how. Aside from a pleasant day out in Herne Bay at the weekend, where “the bikers are out” and he has been “flying the Lib Dems flag”, Mr Cunningham has been posting fairly regularly about topics as diverse as Dreamland amusement park in Margate, the political leaders’ TV debate and Herne Bay clock tower. He also gives details of where constituents can meet him to discuss their concerns. Much of this material can also be found on his Twitter account. Whoever comes out on top in the General Election, it is unlikely to be decided by social media alone. But in those constituencies where the contest is too tight to call, it may just play a critical role. Will Thanet North be one of them?
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Herne Bay Times, April 15th 2015