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‘‘Silent lobbying is no longer good enough’’

Spend an hour on any social media canal (Facebook, Twitter, you name it) and you will find opinions and frustration. Frustration about asylum seeker shelters being built in local villages; frustration about trade negotiations with the US, Ukraine or any other country; and thousands of opinions about how politicians do not take into account the feelings of the people. Arco Timmermans, Professor of Public Affairs at the Institute of Public Administration, calls this a form of ‘grassroots’ lobbying. But how is this social media form of lobbying dealt with by politicians and what are the dangers of it? And why is this phenomenon growing bigger and bigger? We asked Prof. Timmermans about his opinion.

’The way in which this amateur lobbying, and lobbying in general, is dealt with by policy makers shows unease on the recipient side’’

First of all, it is important to note that to truly and efficiently deal with all these different opinions about questions, is very difficult. We can compare it to a puzzle with the opinions of all the stakeholders being the pieces. Who do you put on the discussion table? How do you represent each opinion in trade agreements such as TTIP or the Ukraine agreement? How do you voice the complaints in society, without neglecting the conflicting interests of other stakeholders? What is also important is how you determine which information can be trusted. The first step that has to be taken is to figure out how to bring these different stakeholders – professionals and unprofessional lobbyists – together in a well-organized discussion. The visible unease cannot be dealt with by sticking to this blueprint of how things are handled, but needs clarity on both sides.

‘‘There is a low barrier to engage in this type of lobbying’’

Think about the barriers to engage in formal debates and professional lobbying. There are certain requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to engage with them. Whether it is education, a professional role or dedication to a certain topic,  you cannot simply go into a room and voice your opinion and expect it to be heard. Social media, however, is like a borderless arena: you can step in and within two minutes, you can have your opinion be heard. It has lower barriers to engage and therefor creates an opportunity for a wider group of people to have their opinions expressed.

‘’The danger of this type of lobbying is that the Window of Opportunity closes very fast for new political decisions. ‘’

TTIP, for example, was already partly doomed in the public eye once the negative flow of information started coming in. In this case, EU-documents about the question are often relatively hard to find and read, whereas the negative side is flooding the internet with ‘leaks’ that suggest a lack of transparency on the positive side. Governments as the recipient side have a difficulty dealing with this cascading public opinion.

Want to know more about questions on Digital Public Affairs and other forms of lobbying and public affairs? Keep posted about the new upcoming Public Affairs master courses in the FGGA newsletter.



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