Lagan Valley MLAs on Twitter: what's the worst that could happen?

15 Mar 2015 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 7 Jul 2015

Lagan Valley MLAs on Twitter

The Shakespearean horror of one MLA's destruction through salvation dominates our latest social media overview, as Scope turns to the greater Lisburn area (no doubt a big influence on the bard).

For the latest in our very, very serious Twitter series Scope swoops into Lagan Valley to examine the online highs and lows of the eventful constituency.

It might well be a boisterous DUP stronghold – and more on that later – but, for Twitter drama, the undisputed star of Lagan Valley is Basil McCrea.

When it comes to social media, NI21’s parabolic first year is impossible to ignore.

The sheer speed with which its hopes rose and crashed was as modern as its online strategy.

Inherent in its identity is the idea the party can reach out to younger voters who feel disenfranchised from mainstream politics in Northern Ireland and, for obvious reasons, this makes social media very important.

But in about 11 months NI21 proved itself every bit as “crazy” and “dysfunctional” as the rest of Stormont, with bitter disputes over a change of designation and even allegations of sexual impropriety all getting a great airing in public, largely thanks to Twitter, with a legacy including one of Norn Iron’s best known parody accounts.

Basil and former compadre John McCallister correctly identified online as the best way to reach out to its target voters but where NI21 actually reached maximal efficiency was in electoral self-sabotage.

Hyperbole is not the first word one might associate with Mark Devenport of the BBC, so it’s a good idea to take notice when he observes of NI21 and May 2014: “This is not the first election in Northern Ireland in which the internet has played a role, but it is the first in which candidates from the same party have used Twitter and Facebook to engage in a pre-polling civil war.”

All that being said, Basil continues to communicate on Twitter, and – quiet at the back – his efforts on social media are sophisticated and skilful.

He has over 5,000 tweets without droning on, and is able to use infographics and especially embedded videos promptly to share his viewpoints on topical issues.

The number of people he follows, approaching 1900, indicates he appreciates the conversational nature of Twitter and also that he makes an effort to listen and not just sermonise.

Over 11,000 followers is respectable – over half that of the First Minister and around a quarter of the deputy FM, not massive numbers but a strong showing for someone who is the lone MLA of a new party which inflated and popped within its first year.

So, it’s an erratic report card at best (being kind) but if his political trajectory is going to begin rising again, Basil’s use of Twitter will be an important factor – in which case, best to avoid online “accusations… of "dinosaur politics", "megalomania" and there being "more wholesome goodness" in the deputy leader's slurry tank than on the part of his detractors.”

How do you follow that?

Edwin Poots has a pugnacious reputation but it looks like he keeps his hands in his pockets when it comes to social media.

What appears to be his real account has a barely-there eight Tweets since he joined in July 2012 – although these have all come in the past week, and Scope wonders whether its memory is playing tricks when it recalls a rather more vocal Twitter presence from the recent Health Minister than this one, which has only 12 followers.

A more outspoken member of the local DUP dominion is conscientious objector Paul Givan who, unsurprisingly, has been twittering on about his bill aimed at rolling back aspects of equality legislation – including retweets of supportive messages from those backing the bill – as well as a regular collection of party politics and snippets from NI life.

Perhaps the most striking thing about his account, however, is the number of accounts he follows, a paltry 50. He has nearly 1,000 tweets and nearly double that number of followers, but obviously he does not see Twitter as a two-way street.

It’s straying away from our remit somewhat, but local MP Jeffrey Donaldson is also active – lots of followers, not much following - while it is worth mentioning that Councillor Jenny Palmer also tweets, and is worth a look.

Alliance’s Trevor Lunn has a minor Twitter existence – maybe he’s seen what happened to Basil and decided it’s somewhere to tread carefully – with total Tweets, followers and people he is following all in three figures: 967, 849 and 340 respectively, at the time of writing.

Otherwise it’s pretty standard fare for an MLA, though it’s worth noting he’s aimed a few kicks at the DUP, going in Tweet-first over their treatment of Jenny Palmer, and is also happy to risk the wrath of the most powerful man in Northern Ireland by suggesting Katie Hopkins might be more bearable than our very own Stephen Nolan.

Joint last and very much least, it does not appear that either Brenda Hale or Jonathan Craig – both DUP - has a Twitter account (with the latter’s website declaring “follow me on Twitter” and inviting people to follow @duponline). Jonathan and Brenda - if we’re wrong, please let us know!

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