We need to talk about how we use Facebook

For the AGM of our local party, our diligent party secretary recently emailed the local members outlining the elected positions (Membership Secretary, Diversity Officer etc.) of the local exec. He helpfully included a link to the party’s website with some guidance on what’s involved in each role, and what help and support is available from the party. For one role I looked at, the top 3 sources of support are:

It strikes me that, intentionally or otherwise, a large part of our party’s support network is being run through Facebook. This could mean that people who don’t have a Facebook account don’t get the support they need; or are put off from getting more involved in the party; or aren’t even aware of developments within the party. This strikes me as problematic:

  • Young people simply don’t use Facebook to the extent that people in older age cohorts do. If we’re relying on Facebook to organise ourselves, then we may be excluding a lot of people under 30.
  • Even for those people who do have a Facebook account, all the indications are that usage has dropped off a cliff, especially over the last 18 months.

I deactivated my own account this summer after 10 years. Partly this was due to discomfort with Facebook as an organisation, and partly it was because I had gradually ceased to use it anyway. I had previously set up a private Facebook group for my local ward, but almost none of our local members use Facebook anymore. Obviously, Facebook is still a popular (if declining) platform, and using it to share news of the party is necessary. And, as recently discussed on here, the Lib Dem Newbie Group has been an invaluable source of encouragement for new members (myself included).

But we need to think about how we support each other, and expect support from HQ, by other means. For example:

  • How do members know if there’s a local by-election nearby that needs our support?
  • Where does a membership secretary go if they have a question on Connect?
  • How do people know what the canvassing schedule is for the coming week?
  • How do members find out what their nearest target ward/constituency is?
  • When we’re sending emails to members (e.g. on action days) are there links that can only be accessed with a Facebook account?

Facebook can be part of the answer to these questions, but it can’t be the only answer anymore. The party ought to undertake a review of the role Facebook plays in organising the party, and whether or not that role is still effective.

* Donncha Hayes is a party member in Richmond upon Thames.

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12 Comments

  • James Belchamber 31st Oct '19 - 3:01pm

    There are a couple of assumptions in here which don’t hold up. For example, while young people use other platforms for socialising they will often still have a Facebook account (which they actively use). Also, the reports of Facebook’s demise have been (unfortunately) exaggerated – Facebook is still growing and it’s still the best online platform for reaching just about anyone on the internet.

    With that in mind, I agree – Facebook is far too embedded in the party’s informal structures. In the absence of good tools people have just created Facebook groups in an effort to “get things done”, and instead of using this to understand capability gaps the party has responded by embracing these (inadequate) systems.

    There are solutions – indeed, one of the reasons I am setting up Lib Dem Digital is so that we can organise and unify the voices in the party that know what better looks like and can demonstrate it. If you’d like to get involved with making the Lib Dems “better” in Digital spaces, join here: https://talk.libdemdigital.org.uk/

  • Nonconformistradical 31st Oct '19 - 3:14pm

    @James Belchamber
    “If you’d like to get involved with making the Lib Dems “better” in Digital spaces, join here: https://talk.libdemdigital.org.uk/

    It would be both helpful and sensible if your site told people a bit more about it before expecting them to create an account.

    How about a privacy statement for starters? why should you expect anyone to sign up without knowing what you are going to do with their personal data?

    Not at all impressed!

  • Richard Underhill. 31st Oct '19 - 5:34pm

    “usage has dropped off a cliff” Good.
    The founder was fined at university for what he was doing.
    Privacy used to be a Liberal principle, but the objective of Facebook is the opposite.
    It is also a conveyance for abuse.

  • James Belchamber 31st Oct '19 - 6:13pm

    @Nonconformistradical with respect, I need people who respond to “bad” with offers to muck in and build better, together, as a team – not people who are looking to flog me for doing anything at all.

    Generally, this party needs much less “Not at all impressed!” and much more “Let’s make something impressive”. If you want to muck in then grab a shovel.

  • Nigel Jones 31st Oct '19 - 8:06pm

    @James Belchamber: Well said. Let’s ask people to be constructive in their criticism and not simply make dismissive remarks.

  • Laurence Cox 31st Oct '19 - 8:10pm

    @James Belchamber

    Why do you need a GitHub account to sign up? Aren’t you reinventing the wheel as we already have Liberal Democrats Online: https://www.flocktogether.org.uk/ldo It may be moribund at the moment, but perhaps its better to revive it than create something new.

  • James Belchamber 31st Oct '19 - 8:18pm

    Thank you Nigel.

    Laurence unfortunately LDO is basically defunct now (everything shut down AFAIK). I have spoken to Martin Tod about it and he seems supportive of my efforts (though as a regular LDV reader he could well speak for himself).

    I would see this as a successor, somewhat.

  • Nonconformistradical 31st Oct '19 - 10:22pm

    @James Belchamber

    Don’t get me wrong. I actually support the principle of what you are doing.

    But from the login page it isn’t at all clear what the purpose of the site is, who it is for, what the privacy policy is (I know there is a privacy link if I click the Sign up link but I think it should be available before one gets that far).

  • Facebook has the advantage of critical mass, and special status as one of those “always on” sites that people will check many hundreds of times a day.

    It is also often the quickest place to find answers- particularly if emails to HQ have gone unanswered.

    I’m repeatedly frustrated by the party’s digital strategies & decisions – the reliance on Facebook is just one of the issues (a big one) – but the alternative might be no network at all.

    Sadly I don’t have the knowledge / skills to muck in – and suggestions are sometimes met with a level of defensiveness from over-worked staff.

  • Laurence Cox 1st Nov '19 - 2:36pm

    James, Thanks. When Cix was the principal go-to place for party members to get their questions answered and to share experiences (going back to Paddy’s time as Leader, as no Leader since him has promoted it) we had HQ membership staff to act as gatekeepers and ensure that only current party members could access our conferences. My own view is that within-Party discussions ideally should be inside a boundary where HQ staff can restrict access to current members only, such as the members part of the Party web site, rather than on an external site. I fully agree with you about the undesirability of using Facebook, but I am unconvinced that setting up another external site is the way forward.

  • I’ve complained before about the party’s reliance on Facebook for internal business. I refuse on principle to have a Facebook account, and don’t understand how any liberal party can encourage the use of such an illiberal platform. The continuous stream of revelations (and fines) for data abuse, the willingness to allow outright lies by politicians, and it’s legendary tax-dodging should certainly provide incentive for HQ to push alternatives.

    I understand that a public-facing Facebook presence is essential for campaigning, but for internal party business there are plenty of alternatives. Even Telegram would be a big improvement, their private channels could be used in place of private Facebook groups, and it’s open and cross-platform.

  • Peter Chambers 1st Nov '19 - 8:48pm

    Github? Is that the one that sold out to Microsoft?

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