Page last updated at 17:16 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 18:16 UK

MPs warned to avoid hasty blogs

By Emma Griffiths
BBC political reporter, at the Labour Party conference

The next generation of Labour MPs has been warned to be careful about what they write on blogs and websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube - as comments made in haste remain on the internet forever.

At a packed fringe meeting hosted by Google at the Labour conference, activists and prospective and current MPs were told of the benefits of social networking sites - where politicians can get their message out without civil servants and special advisers getting in the way.

Twitter screenshot
Not everyone is a Twitter fan

Labour's newly crowned "Twitter tsar", MP Kerry McCarthy, made a bid to win over the sceptics by saying it did not have to be a burden - and that Twitter could be updated while MPs were on hold on the telephone, or watching the news.

But in a word of warning Adewale Oshineye, a Google engineer, advised prospective MPs to bear in mind they were publishing something that could be dug out years later.

"When you are saying something amusing as a prospective parliamentary candidate, in four or five years' time when you are a cabinet minister and someone digs that up - that could be awkward," he said.

"You are basically publishing when you are writing online - it's likely to be archived and read by people for a long time to come."

Press 'stalking'

His colleague Chewy also warned the unwary: "When you are Twittering or putting anything on a blog do consider that it might end up on the front page of a newspaper."

One nervous Labour candidate asked Ms McCarthy if she was "stalked by the press" after posting Twitter updates.

"Not in a bad way," she replied - but recalled a blog entry she wrote about a constituent's 13ft python that had swallowed the neighbour's cat, which ended up on the front page of the Sunday Times.

"You do get some irate constituents asking if you have nothing better to do than write about Wilbur the cat," she said, but added: "I think there is so much to be gained from it, we shouldn't let the fear of that put us off too much."

There's a lot more Labour MPs on Twitter than the other parties and some of them use it better than others
Kerry McCarthy

The event steered clear of party politics - or mentions of Gordon Brown's much-mocked appearance on YouTube. Mr Oshineye said Google hosted events for other parties and would be at the Conservative conference next week.

The Conservatives have also been building up their internet presence, with a full time team of web developers working on projects for the general election and the party is well represented on social networking sites. A survey by the Hansard Society suggested Liberal Democrat MPs were the most likely to be on Facebook and the party holds its own Blog of the Year awards.

Ms McCarthy told the BBC: "There's a lot more Labour MPs on Twitter than the other parties and some of them use it better than others - some get the 'two way things' a bit better."

'Wrong position'

She added: "When the whole Twitter tsar - I have succumbed to calling myself that now because I'm fighting a losing battle - was announced, that was at the beginning of recess, so I have not spoken to many colleagues.

"But I have had quite a few coming up to me - especially this week. I think there are going to be quite a lot of them doing it soon."

She told the audience that given the "difficult situation" the party was in in the polls, it was "really important you get out there and engage" on the internet.

Sue Macmillan - Labour's new media campaigns chief - joined her in trying to win over doubters.

She said that while there was time pressure on MPs some started from the "wrong position" of saying they only got 100 visitors a week and asking: "Why aren't my 60,000 constituents looking at my website?"

Even with traditional canvassing, an MP might only speak to 10 people in two hours, she said.

"And you are reaching the people you can't get with canvassing because they live without land lines and in gated communities."

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