Profile pics: PLP leader Dr. Ewart Brown with President Obama on the Premier's Facebook page. <em>*Photo supplied</em>
Profile pics: PLP leader Dr. Ewart Brown with President Obama on the Premier's Facebook page. *Photo supplied
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Ewart and Craig are now friends. Kim likes Jeff’s picture. Michael thinks Ewart is talking nonsense.

It sounds like the language of a primary school classroom.

But Facebook, with its unique lexicon of ‘likes’, ‘status updates’ and ‘friend requests’ is fast becoming a key battleground for political debate.

Politicians are finding they can reach more people quicker than ever through a simple ‘status update’ or a ‘wall post’.

Scuffing the shoe leather on the doorstep seems desperately outdated by comparison.

And more and more Bermudian politicians are using the forum to court voters, discuss ideas or communicate with the public.

Within the PLP, one MP told us, there is even an element of competition over who has the most friends. No contest there.

Opinions

Premier Dr. Ewart Brown is an avid user with more than 4,000 people listed as his friend.

He uses the page to post PLP press releases, comments and opinions on issues as well as keeping his ‘friends’ updated with the usual personal Facebook fodder like vacations and his golf game.

His page has a cult following with posts varying from sickly sycophancy to ranting outrage.

One recent poster added this quip in a retort to a post the Premier made about improvements in his golf game.

“Don’t take this the wrong way but nobody cares. It would be different if you were on top of your game as premier.

“I remember my mamma wouldn’t let me go out to play until ALL of my work was done.”

Others are tougher still — calling the Premier angrily to account over a variety of issues, from financial mismanagement to his perceived ‘spinning’ of the truth. Some critics appear to have created Facebook accounts for alter egos with the sole aim of baiting the Premier on his webpage.

A host of defenders of the Premier, including his son Trey Brown, are also active users — with many discussions degenerating into tit-for-tat arguments. It’s hard to imagine such frank, often angry, exchanges of views in a normal conversational context. But Facebook is changing the way people communicate.

And though Dr. Brown says he takes the invective of anonymous critics with a “grain of salt”, he believes his page is a valuable tool for relating with the public.

He said: “People sometimes take shots under the cloak of anonymity but for the most part it is a very civilized and very positive discussion. It’s important to respond to people.”

The Premier believes allowing open debate on his personal Facebook page is a sign that he is more available to hear people’s concerns and to discuss ideas with the public, than many previous leaders have been.

Others are seeing the wisdom of social media as a political tool. PLP leadership contender Terry Lister has combined solidly old school methods, like town hall meetings, with a deliberate policy of targeting younger voters through Facebook and Twitter.

Could the new ‘town hall’ meeting be held in cyberspace?

Mr. Lister believes the forum is as valuable as any other method of communicating with the public.

A wall post on his Facebook page or a response to a policy query is just as likely to be considered as a question raised at a meeting.

“Facebook is more a medium to put an idea or a thought out there and get some immediate feedback. You can also use it to put out a question or have people respond to a quick poll.

“It doesn’t replace any other form of communication, I think it complements them.”

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance — the island’s newest political party — takes a similar approach.

Cabinet

If the ‘friend wars’ on Facebook count for anything at General Election time, then party leader Craig Cannonier can start packing his boxes for a move into the Cabinet Office.

The BDA is the most popular party on Facebook with 1,558 members. The PLP has 599 members and hasn’t updated its page since January, although Dr. Brown’s personal page appears to be the focus of their Facebook presence.

The UBP’s page is updated more regularly, but only 222 people are watching.

Do those numbers mean anything in the real world? Kristin White, one of the administrators of the BDA’s page, thinks so.

“We are optimistic about it. We have more than 1,500 fans on Facebook and everyone of them is a potential voter if we treat them with respect.

“We take their feedback seriously, we send out articles, start discussions and we always respond to questions and criticism.”

The party is not naïve enough to believe its network of Facebook friends means it is Bermuda’s most popular party.

But the medium has allowed the BDA to establish a grassroots structure without the aid of full-page newspaper ads and big budget propaganda.

Popularity on Facebook may also demonstrate what party insiders have been saying from the start — that the BDA is the choice of younger people seeking a “better way”.

“Young people are going to be a key demographic in the next election and we are moving in the right direction by having a solid presence on Facebook,” added Ms White.

Fun Facebook facts from our most active social networkers