The founder of a digital democracy project has joined in with criticism of Boris Johnson’s so-called “People’s PMQs” on Facebook Live – describing the practice as proof that leaders “still don’t get social media”.
Since coming the power in July, the Prime Minister has periodically used Facebook Live to answer pre-arranged questions from members of the public.
The Prime Minister opened the first event with the words “I worry that people feel disconnected from politics”, but Joel Popoola, founder of the Digital Democracy project described People’s PMQs as “nothing like genuine engagement, just an out-dated old-fashioned top-down broadcast”.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature festival, former BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson likened People’s PMQs to the behaviour a “dictator”.
He said: “There is no doubt that all politicians know that they can broadcast directly using social media. Johnson regularly does videos on Facebook and regularly does videos on Twitter.
“And he has the great joy on Facebook of calling it the People’s PMQs which largely consists of his aides picking questions that they want him to answer.
‘It ain’t democracy, it is a form of propaganda used by dictators down the ages.”
Another critic has described the practice as a “craven, shambolic, fully North Korean embarrassment”.
Joel Popoola, founder of the Digital Democracy project, which seeks to use technology to connect electors and the elected, joined the debate.
“As someone who grew up under military rule in Nigeria, I would stop somewhat short of comparing the Prime Minister to a dictator, but Nick Robinson is quite correct when he points out that Boris Johnson isn’t doing anything new.
“In fact he’s doing something which has been done by leaders throughout history, and in doing so he’s proving that politicians still don’t get social media.
“The Prime Minister, and other politicians, still see social media nothing like genuine engagement but as an out-dated old-fashioned top-down broadcast platform – that’s not what it there’s for and it’s not what people want. They want meaningful two-way conversation. Dialogue – not demagoguery.
“A conversation has to have two people in it – that’s why we developed the Rate Your Leader app, which is designed to ensure that elected officials don’t just transmit messages, but receive them.”
The Digital Democracy project has created a free app called Rate Your Leader- available from the Apple and Google Marketplaces – which checks users are registered to vote before identifying the MPs, councillors, mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners who serve them.
The app then allows users to communicate direct with these representatives in a way which makes abuse or harassment impossible.
The Rate Your Leader app has a five star rating on the Google market, with one reviewer writing “This is the new level of politics…better communication of leaders with the electorates and accountability”.