Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Advice for tweeting MPs

Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Getty Images
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Getty Images

It's a jungle out there. As acclaimed media analyst and Prime Minister John Key has noted, the modern politician confronts not just the workaday knuckleheads of the mainstream media but a blizzard of blogsters, some of whom need to be regularly telephoned, as well as the trolls and bottom-feeders of social media.

This final category of sewer rats was codified by the PM this week after the embattled Judith Collins' brain exploded all over Twitter, goading TV3 into covering a bizarre attack on TVNZ's Katie Bradford. After a tweeted apology on Sunday, Collins was gone, dispatched to social-media Siberia.

Already I miss @judithcollinsmp: her bull-headedness, her wit, her incandescent double standards. She tweeted too close to the sun, however. It was always going to go up in flames. Drawing on her experience, and those of other politicians, I humbly offer 10 bits of advice for MPs on Twitter.

1. Don't feed the trolls (or troll the bottom-feeders)

The Prime Minister is right. They "get in people's head". The trick is to ignore them, rather than following Collins' Mad Max-style example. Bernard Shaw said it: Never wrestle with a pig. You end up covered in filth, and the pig loves it.

2. Engage

If you're making up numbers on the backbench, engage away. Hardly anyone is watching, so you can howl and blather all day long. See also, "@TauHenare".

Now that Maurice Williamson is unburdened by ministerial warrants, let's hope he ramps up the impudent tweeting. He's good at it. About a year ago, still basking in gay rainbow celebrity, the Pakuranga highwayman noticed a series of tweets from Henare detailing gym activity, such as: "WOD '300' 25min Cap / 25 Pull Ups (kips) / 50 D/L 40kg / 50 push-ups / 50 Box jumps 16 inch / 50 Box jumps 16 inch / 50 Flr Wipes." Williamson's reply: "Meanwhile in Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai I did: 20 G&Ts 14 SavBlancs 6 BlackRussians 7 tequilas and 4 pints of lager."

3. Don't engage

After Collins blew a gasket on Sunday, Key advised politicians to use Twitter "as a broadcast medium". Such a suggestion will be blasphemy to New Zealand's several thousand social media experts, but he's right. If you're a senior politician, err on the side of non-engagement. Unless you're completely confident and proficient at it, just don't.

It is true that John Key's Twitter account is about as entertaining as lint (he has produced only two interesting tweets, the one-word "Bugger" after the America's Cup catastrophe, and an upside-down photograph of a supermarket) but that's how he likes it.

Consider a rare prime ministerial foray into engagement. When he tweeted something about economic growth being important, followed by: "What do you think?" the responses flooded in. "I also think that the weather is very important, what do you think?" said one. Another: "I think the children are our future. What do you think?" Then: "I am afraid of my inevitable decay and mortality. What do you think?" And: "Nice tie."

4. Be yourself

It is hard not to like @TauHenare. He takes a joke. As with @judithcollinsmp, not for a second could you imagine their tweets are posted by a staffer. Even if you're not a prolific tweeter, from time to time you should provide evidence of being a human.

Ed Balls, the British Labour Party finance guy, has his own chapter in the history of political Twitter. In 2011, he poetically posted, simply, "Ed Balls". He'd meant to search for his name, rather than publish, and "didn't realise" he was able to delete it. Now, April 28 is Ed Balls Day, when thousands of people mark the anniversary by tweeting (or retweeting) "Ed Balls". Both the Guardian and the Mirror - I'm not kidding - have live-blogged the occasion. To his credit, Balls joins in, too.

5. Don't be yourself

It's a public forum. You're a politician. You're not normal. Don't be yourself. As with all the other rules, this does not apply to Tau Henare.

6. Don't drink and tweet

Not even from your second Twitter account hilariously parodying a political rival.

7. No Weiners

In 2011, US congressman Anthony Weiner used Twitter to share with a 21-year-old woman an intimate selfie. This sort of thing has become de rigueur among New Zealand sportspeople of late, and that's bad enough, but among politicians it is a cardinal sin. Democracy cannot function if we think even fleetingly about our elected representatives' bits.

8. No selfies

Even the non-smutty ones have had their day. See also, "derp face".

9. Do not read lists of advice about using Twitter

10. If you're going to be a patronising arse, double-check the spelling.

My favourite political tweet of all time? From June last year, posted by British Conservative MP Andrew Selous: "Strongly support the loss of benefits unless claimants lean English."

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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