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Tweeting TDs: Who excelled on social media in 2017?

While local radio might still be the holy grail of parish pump politics, new media is quickly catching up, writes Craig Dwyer.

Craig Dwyer

POLITICALLY SPEAKING, 2017 provided us with plenty to talk about. There was Brexit, a growing housing and homelessness crisis, the Committee on the Eighth Amendment’s recommendations and the departure of Enda Kenny, replaced as Taoiseach by 38-year-old Leo Varadkar.

Many of the 218 Members of the Oireachtas jumped at the chance to engage with radio, print and TV media to debate the aforementioned – engagement vital for securing votes. In a 2012 survey, TDs ranked local radio as the most important tool for communicating with constituents.

While local radio might still be the holy grail of parish pump politics, new media is quickly catching up, with some politicians leveraging the change quicker than others and upping their social media game in 2017.

Influencing socially networked voters

With the prospect of an upcoming General Election and a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, it will be through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, that politicians will reach, engage and influence socially networked voters.

Donald Trump’s first year as US President has been a stark demonstration of how social media can be used by politicians to set the agenda, bypassing traditional media.

Who excelled on social media in 2017? 

Kate O’Connell, FG

First time TD for Dublin Bay South, Kate O’Connell quickly established herself as a formidable politician who doesn’t hold back. Deputy O’Connell is particularly outspoken, and has been a leader within the Fine Gael ranks, on the issue of the Eighth Amendment.

Kate was commended by some party colleagues for the manner in which she dealt with alleged abusive Twitter behaviour from Fine Gael National Executive member, Barry Walsh. Not only did Kate write to Fine Gael bosses about the ‘consistent, sustained, gendered abuse’, she also held Walsh to account on Twitter:

O’Connell’s approach to collegial support for repeal of the Eighth Amendment is considered and respectful. In her most retweeted tweet of the year, Kate acknowledges the role of women who had ‘gone before us through the gates of Leinster House’ and thanked them for their support on the issue.

This extended to ‘compassionate party colleagues’, for whom she took to the time to thank individually, including Fine Gael Minister and constituency rival, Eoghan Murphy.

Gerry Adams, SF

We can’t talk about social media and politics without mentioning Gerry Adams. Who can forget the rubber ducks?

Gerry didn’t disappoint in 2017 (we’re not talking about his decision to step down as  leader of Sinn Féin). In one of his most engaged with Tweets of 2017, Gerry… well, you can just see for yourself:

But it’s not all humour with Gerry Adams. His most retweeted Tweet of the year was a video from Leaders’ Questions in which he called on the Taoiseach to recognise Catalonian Independence.

Snipping video clips from Dáil and Seanad proceedings has become a regular feature from some and demonstrates how TDs and Senators can use social media to amplify their message to wider audiences, in ways previously not available to them.

Gerry Adams remains the most followed leader on Twitter at 155k. Although our next pick is hot on his heels.

Leo Varadkar, FG

What might seem like an obvious choice, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar makes the list for a number of reasons. Straight out of the ‘Justin Tredeau School of Social Media’ (and that’s not a criticism), our new leader is not afraid to show his personality online.

While political anoraks might take umbrage with his vast array of colourful socks or that time he loaded the dishwasher, most of the Irish electorate want to be able to relate in some way to the leader of their country, and that’s something Leo and his team are acutely aware of. So expect to see more photobombing llama’s in 2018.

This would also explain why his reply to Irish student Emma Kelly’s tweet, after she placed Varadkar on a waiting list, before seating him at a ‘tiny table’ at a Chicago restaurant, is the most favourited of all his tweets since his account was set up in December 2010.

Leo also became known for his weekly video updates on social media during 2017. After a dodgy start, he took onboard some advice from his followers, including the Rubberbandits, and the slick, well produced videos now reach thousands of viewers each week.

This recent video on the introduction of PE as a subject in the Leaving Cert received more than 163k views on Facebook alone.

Posted by on Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Ruth Coppinger, Solidarity-PBP

The Solidarity-People Before Profit TD is attuned to the potential social media can yield if properly utilised. Recently speaking on the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill, Coppinger cites the role of social media during the anti-water charges campaign and how it is being used “for protest movements and for political discourse that is not allowed or permitted within the mainstream media”.

On her own social media, Coppinger’s tweets and Facebook posts attract huge numbers of engagements. Ruth keeps her 15K Facebook followers up-to-date with regular short, subtitled videos. Just short of 100 videos over the year, this explainer of Solidarity’s plan to address the housing crisis is one of the most viewed of 2017.

Posted by on Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lab

Riding on the wave of his speech, in which he labelled Trump a ‘fascist’, going viral across the globe, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin did not take the foot off the pedal in 2017.

Aodhán’s active presence has seen him amass a large following on Facebook and Twitter and is one of the few who is also active on Instagram – which is now the second most used social media platform in Ireland, after Facebook.

With an average of 17 tweets per day (including retweets), Aodhán is one of the most prolific Tweeters from the Houses of the Oireachtas. #Repealthe8th is his most used hashtag and this is the Labour Senator’s most retweeted Tweet from the year:

Lynn Ruane, Ind

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane’s mix of politics, interests and family life has seen her build a large and loyal following on Twitter since she began tweeting in February 2015.

Like Kate O’Connell, Ruane was also a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment and was on the receiving end of many letters, emails and even a framed picture of Judas as a result. The pro-choice Senator was undeterred and reiterated her unwavering support in response. These were subsequently two of her most engaged with tweets of 2017:

Noel Rock, FG

If personality is what people want from their politicians on social media, the youngest member of the Oireachtas has it in abundance. In his Instagram bio, Noel Rock claims to be trying his best “to not become a stereotypical politician” and his social media presence would back up his efforts.

His down-to-earth, authentic and witty approach is a breath of fresh air. And if two of his top tweets from the year are anything to go by, Twitter would agree.  We’ll just leave this here…

Fianna Fáil

Despite some exceptions, such as Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill, the party has a way to go on in order to use social media effectively to reach, inform and engage with current and potential supporters.

However, the will is there as we witnessed earlier in the year with #AskFiannaFail, it just might not have been fully thought through. Just #AskJoan.

As we embark upon a year of heightened political activity, expect to see more videos, more Instagramming and hopefully, one of two gaffs along the way.

Craig Dwyer is a Fellow with the Social Change Initiative, conducting research on digital and social media campaigning. He was the Social Media Director for Yes Equality and is currently a Masters student of Political Communication in DCU. He tweets at: @DwyerCraig.

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