Page last updated at 02:15 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

MPs 'talking, not hearing online'

Hands on computer keyboard
MPs should use the internet to converse not to inform, the report says

MPs are getting more adept at using the internet - but they tend to see it as way of talking to rather than hearing from voters, new research suggests.

Attitudes among MPs to new media as a communications tool are too "passive", the Hansard Society has concluded.

Its research found that although 83% of MPs have a personal website, only 11% of them blog while less than one in four use social networking sites.

New media remained an "untapped area" for political engagement, it said.

US example

All British parties have been studying Barack Obama's use of the internet during his successful election campaign to attract supporters, focus policy debates and drive voter registration.

It is thought the Obama campaign employed as many as 95 permanent web staff and spent heavily on online operations.

MPs are transmitting and not receiving
Andy Williamson, Hansard Society

A survey of 168 MPs by the Hansard Society - the independent political research organisation - found members of Parliament were not fully exploiting the internet's interactive potential.

Its findings suggested MPs see electronic media primarily as a way of informing the public about their activities and views rather than engaging with people about them.

It found that younger MPs and those elected more recently were more likely to use social networking tools.

As for blogs, many MPs believed they did not have the time or resources to manage one although the reputation of some blogs of being a forum for abuse was cited as putting some off.

Cabinet minister Hazel Blears attacked political bloggers earlier this year for fuelling a culture of cynicism about public life.

But former deputy PM John Prescott is a recent convert to blogging, launching a site to support a fourth Labour term.

Although the potential of the internet is generally not well understood by MPs, Hansard said the growth in the number of MPs using social networking sites showed a willingness to learn.

"MPs are transmitting and not receiving," said Andy Williamson, director of the Society's eDemocracy programme.

"They use the internet as a tool for campaigning and for organising their supporters, rather than opening up two-way communications with constituents."

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