Facebook-Minister Timmermans: “Social media should play a bigger role in politics”

POSTED: 06/10/13 12:56 PM

St. Maarten – Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans is the only member of the Dutch cabinet that is present on Facebook. The page has more than 17,000 likes. Currently, the page carries an image that outlines the minister’s trip in the region. Asked if he would recommend Facebook to Prime Minister Wescot-Williams, Timmermans said yesterday: “Absolutely.”

His experience with Facebook since he became a minister has been a sometimes rocky road. “It is fun and sometimes not fun,” he admitted. “Sometimes your page is hijacked by people who have a permanent bad mood and who want to express that regardless of your postings, they will find ways to express that. If I would post that the weather in St. Maarten is glorious somebody would immediately add, yes, but in Siberia it is cold. That happens.”

But as a way to communicate, Timmermans remains a faithful Facebook-fan. “It is very good to show people what you do all day – they often do not have a clue about that. You also get to know what people think and what they want to share with you about foreign policy. Social media should play a bigger role in politics, but it has to be done honest.”

With that last remark, Timmermans indicates that politicians who venture into social media-land have to do the work themselves. “You cannot use it as a tool whereby you have your communications experts pretend that you are on Facebook. You have to be on Facebook yourself. If you cannot find the time, if you cannot find the energy, don’t go there. But if you do, I think it is an interesting tool.”

Timmermans emphasized that the postings on his page are truly his. “Sometimes when something happens I may ask people to post something because I am not there. When I get too many emails, others help me answering them too. But then the reply always states: this is not Frans Timmermans, but someone answering on his behalf.”

After taking office, Timmermans has established fourteen house rules for people who visit his Facebook page. Rule number one: the minister will remove posts that are slanderous, denigrating, inciting hatred, insulting, threatening, tormenting or obscene. He will also remove posts that contain vulgar language, target specific racial or ethnic groups, personal attacks, and posts that violate someone’s privacy. There are more rules, but they basically all come down to this: if they do not contribute to the discussion in a decent manner, or violate national or international legislation, they will be removed in a hurry.

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