IN the Legislative Assembly Andrew Barr usually takes the prize for social media savvy, but a new contender has emerged with Simon Corbell’s new Blackberry-fuelled Twitter romance fully fledged and flying.
The ACT Minister for Emergency Services admits he was dubious at first of Twitter’s value as a mode of communication with constituents.
“Initially, I saw it like a diary and I’ve never been good at keeping diaries,” Corbell told “CityNews”.
“But if you treat it as a more spontaneous thing you can dip in and out of, depending on what’s happening, it can be very useful.”
Corbell says the experience of the Queensland emergency services during the floods and cyclone earlier this year forced him to reassess his scepticism of the micro-blogging platform.
“During the crisis, Queensland Police released three press releases, but they tweeted thousands of times. Twitter became the main news feed for the Queensland Police,” he explains.
“It was quicker, it was more reliable. Websites were crashing, they were overwhelmed with hits. Twitter doesn’t crash, Facebook doesn’t crash, because it’s got multiple servers across the world and people can add to it.
“The Queensland experience changed my perspective. It showed me how powerful it was as a medium.”
In recent months Corbell has hit his ‘Crackberry’ hard, churning out images, links and commentary on the life of a Canberra Minister with four portfolios.
“Twitter on my Blackberry is very addictive,” he admits with a guilty smile.
“I look at it and I think, ‘I wonder what’s new?’ so I have to go back and see what’s new.
“It’s a very immediate channel of communicating in both directions between a politician and people. I think that’s what’s really quite powerful, you’re dealing with the politician without the media and that’s really quite exciting, but also challenging.
“It’s quite unlike traditional forms of correspondence; those channels are really controlled because you’re going through lots of other people’s hands and they’re slower.
“On Twitter I’m talking about things that don’t get into the news. Like I’m meeting with ‘X’ or ‘Y’ or ‘this morning I’m meeting with people from my department’ and I might give a taste of what we’re talking about. Or I might even talk about an interview I’ve just given before any journalist reports it.
“I want to explore social media more to show people what I do day-to-day aside from the three-second grab on the news.
“Why should the mainstream media have a monopoly on what I say? If I’ve given the interview it’s public, so why shouldn’t I put it out there?
“I think the ability to reach people who haven’t been reached before in political dialogue is potentially very powerful.
“You can deal with the pollie online pretty much 24/7 and I’ve found myself in conversations with people at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!”
Corbell says he has never deleted a Tweet or Facebook post or blocked anyone from seeing his accounts, but won’t rule out censorship or staffers posting for him and says he doesn’t follow any members of the Opposition.
“It’s a bit like lessons people have learned from email, just because it’s immediate doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what you’re saying. It’s like any media. The immediacy of it means you can get caught up in being spontaneous and not thinking about whether what you’re saying is appropriate.
“I’ve been tempted myself to weigh in on some national political debates, I’ve wanted to say something about it, but I’ve had to think twice about it.”
It’s all about balance, Corbell says and encourages other politicians to take up social media.
“We’re certainly seeing a number of MLAs using it, to a greater or lesser degree,” he said.
“I think people should use the medium that works for them. I don’t have as strong a Facebook presence as Andrew [Barr], but that’s what he’s comfortable with and it works. I think Twitter is working better for me than Facebook.
“What’s important is reaching people you wouldn’t always reach directly.”