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PM warns about 'dangerous' Twitter

It seems like National MPs will be told to pull their heads in on social media — at least if the PM's comments this morning are anything to go by.

"Twitter can be very dangerous for politicians," the PM said on Breakfast this morning.

His comments followed Judith Collins sledging TVNZ reporter Katie Bradford over the weekend.

Most of the action centred on an interview with TV3, where the Justice Minister implied Ms Bradford had asked for help when her (then) husband, who was having trouble getting into Police College in 2010 (Ms Bradford denied asking for help).

But Ms Collins used Twitter in the build up (calling Ms Bradford a "liar" for reporting she hadn't seen her at National's northern region conference). She also used tweets to bait TV3 to follow up her Police College claim, and for her eventual apology.

Asked if he was comfortable with so much of Ms Collins conversation with Bradford and media taking place in the Twittersphere, the PM said he used Twitter himself. It was a nice way to acknowledge something like Lydia Ko winning a tournament that didn't necessarily warrant a full press from his office.

"But this sort of stuff I think is a very dangerous space for politicians from all sides of the house and I see people engaging in it, it’s not just our ministers, our people," Mr Key said.

"It gets late at night, people get tired, they don’t think it through, like emails. There are plenty of people who write emails in their workplace, hit the end button, then a month later when it’s being read back to them it isn’t quite the way it seemed."

The PM later commented, as he announced that Judith Collins was going on a "refresher" break, that the minister had let Twitter trolls get under her skin.

I hope the PM doesn't put the lid on social media.

It's a great way for people to reach politicians directly. And, for better or worse, MPs' true personality, and true opinions on issues, shine through.

And it's always fascinating to see which colleagues rally around, or don't, in a crisis.

More information is better.

Don't look for National MPs to disappear from Twitter anytime soon. The PM — or at least his office — is a slick social media operator, and he's not about to lose that direct engagement with voters.

But do expect fewer spontaneous tweets. Pity.

What do you think? Has your view of Judith Collins’ ability to do her job changed following the events of the weekend?  Click here to vote in our subscriber-only business pulse poll.

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Comments and questions

Tau Henare is the king of "spontaneous" tweets. Is Hone Harawira on Twitter yet?

The problem isn't Twitter, it's Collins. She is becoming a real liability for the Government and should be gone be the weekend!

Twitter: You are a Twit if you tweet!
You would like to believe that those elected to office to govern our country have a little class and would not demean themselves let alone others by broadcasting their thoughts via this invidious piece of social media.
Politicians do everyone, especially yourselves, a favour close your Twit account

The most valuable information is that which is not disclosed. In Game Theory, it is is linked with the phenomenon that whenever you do something, you signal information to your opponents that may assist them discern your strategy. This inevitably leads to speculation about what you may be hiding. And it underpins the long-standing need for Cabinet Ministers (as distinct from other MPs) to be seen to manage perceptions of conflicts of interest, because they may (inadvertently) signal substantive information concerning their statutory roles. Ministers are 'different' to ordinary MPs because they are part of the Administration as well as the Legislature. They need to maintain higher standards to protect the Crown from being 'gamed' as a consequence of their actions.

The internet has changed none of this. Indeed, it has increased risks for some individuals, because they get to be seen doing things that never before were visible (e.g. sharing their personal thoughts with the entire world). So we would expect even greater discretion to be exercised with internet communications than with standard media. Unfortunately, this appears to have been lost sight of by most individuals (including politicians). Reputation is even harder to manage when almost every thought and action is posted to the blogosphere. Just because the internet can allow information to be widely shared does not mean there is value in sharing it in the first place. Perhaps it is time for politicians and the Cabinet Office to think again about the importance of signals sent in this way. There is a reason why the Queen never does media interviews and closely manages information passing out into the internet world. It behoves her agents to think similarly when acting on her behalf.

Twitter just like a gun won't kill unless its used by a stupid individual

The media are not spending much time on the challenges of interfacing with chinese culture when you have to answer to different expectations back home.