Abu Dhabi: Senior parliamentarians and experts called for using communication technologies and social media not just to educate and inform, but also to communicate and engage, a global parliamentary summit was told yesterday.

Under the title ‘The changing dynamics of political communication’, a session of the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament examined the role of parliaments in maximising the use of communication technologies and social media.

In line with the significant growth of social media over the past few years, the panellists recognised that the ways governments and citizens interact with each other needed to be redefined.

Alincia Williams-Grant, Speaker of the Senate in Antigua and Barbuda, said: “The absence of transparency and communication leads to public distrust. There should be a transformative rule that makes governments more transparent and accountable. Communication technologies must be used to connect with the people and also enable the people to connect with the government.”

She added social media allows people to communicate in more efficient real-time ways than ever before. Communication technologies are the fifth arm of the government, and parliamentarians should embrace evolving media platforms, and make budgetary allocations to facilitate the implementation of relevant changes.

Ankie Broekers-Knol, President of the Netherlands Senate, offered an objective examination of the pros and cons of digital platforms. She said the positive impact of social media is that people can find a voice through the internet and, even more importantly, it provides a new and interactive system of communication within the public sphere, which is a key component of democracy.

She added social media, however, has potentially dangerous drawbacks. For example, negative messages, such as reckless comments, insults and angry demands, have influenced the outcome of referendums and public opinion. The challenge is for parliamentarians to find the perfect balance and combine the potential of direct democracy in social media with our system of representative democracy.

Commenting on the developments in the field in the last few years, Noora Mohammad Al Kaabi, Minister for Federal National Council Affairs, said social media has transformed our world and brought about political and social change across the region.

For the purpose of illustration, she used the example of the 2015 parliamentary elections in the UAE, which recorded a 12 per cent increase in communication.

Dariga Nazarbayeva, Chair of the Committee on International Relations, Defence and Security of the Kazakhstan Senate, warned of the negative effects of the phenomenon and said: “Social media can promote xenophobia and islamophobia, contribute to large-scale human trafficking, and have dangerous effects on children through the dissemination of violent games. It is vital that parliaments around the world take action. One important step is to educate citizens on how to use social media effectively.”

Using the example of the recent US presidential election results, Frank Sesno, Director of George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, said people were clearer on what Trump would do than with regard to Hillary Clinton’s mandate, as she was not very active on social media. “You must use all the tools that are available to make the best impact. And in this one aspect, Trump emerged stronger.”

He added leaders are now challenged more than ever before, which is why they need to set out a strategic and tactical plan that projects who they are and what they stand for effectively. Communication in our world is different, as everything is instant and fast-paced. Social media empowers individual voices and, in this process, editors and gate-keepers are bypassed and have almost become irrelevant. People are responsible for the information they consume.