Mohamed Nanabhay
Mohamed Nanabhay

The illusion of engagement: My chat with Downing Street

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The first thing that popped up in my RSS reader on Tuesday morning was a post from Richard Sambrook who noted that the prime minister’s office in Britain had not only started to Twitter its press-release notices, but was also responding to questions.

I decided to ask the question that is on everyone’s mind : When is the war in Iraq going to end?

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To my surprise, I received a response fairly quickly.

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Of course, it’s not really an answer but then, even if the British government had the remotest idea of how to extract itself from the mess that is the occupation of Iraq, it would hardly let us know via a tweet.

Downing Street is not only using Twitter, it is also reaching out through Flickr and YouTube. It is a good strategy that creates the illusion of a genuine attempt to engage with citizens and may help Downing Street bypass a hostile domestic press.

While many are hailing this as a great move forward in open government, I’m not so sure. It’s easy to get blinded by all the fancy Web 2.0 goodness that surrounds this initiative. Yes, it’s great that Downing Street is doing this, but let’s be honest: Are a few video responses on YouTube really going to mean anything or gauge public opinion when nearly a million people pouring on to the streets of London didn’t?