I have never voted at a polling station before. I was born a month too late to vote in the UK general election in 2005, and in the local elections of 2008 I voted by post. So when I suddenly realised I was eligible to vote in the European elections in under two weeks time, I panicked. What I know about Europe I learned for a public administration exam, and that was dry at the best of times. So I set myself the challenge of seeing what was happening online and through social networking that might help me. And it turns out, rather a lot. So for anyone else struggling with the idea, here is a quick rundown of the main online resources that might be able to help you find your feet - and a good indication of how well European politics is coping with the blogosphere.
How do you know who to vote for?
Step in Euprofiler. It's a bit lengthy, but stick with it. This site asks you a range of questions about your opinions on social welfare, immigration, security, integration and the like and then maps your responses with the party "most like you", both in the UK and in Europe at large. Admittedly it's not an exact science, but it's a good starting point to know where you might start reading around.
Flickr, MySpace and Facebook
Visit the European parliament's Flickr page to have see how various elements of the campaign are getting underway across the continent, and there are also MySpace and Facebook pages. Both are using similar viral tactics to Obama, with buttons or badges which can be embedded into profiles, although they lack the iconic edge that saw pictures of Obama appear on hundreds of thousands of people's own personal web space. The Facebook site is definately worth checking out. There are discussion strands on first-time voting, among other issues, and all sorts of links to other web projects happening in collaberation with the poll.
One of these includes a quaint resource on the European Parliament's own web site. The interactive time machine aims to explain (in very simply terms) what the EU has been doing for the last 30 years. It's obviously going to have a certain level of bias, but kudos to their web team for trying something different. There's also a very extensive delicious page for more in-depth reading on everything from gender equality in European democracy to sites analysing individuals MEP's voting records.
A couple of the most interesting sites I came across were CanEUhearme? and thinkaboutit.eu. The first site is a competition run in conjunction with MTV designed to get primarily young voters to send in their videoa/pictures to make a statement about what it's like to be part of Europe. Although the competition is its main purpose, there is also other useful information, links and polls relating particularly to young, politically-minded Europeans, and they're on Twitter.
Once you've got an grip of the basics (I'm still not sure whether I have), thinkaboutit.eu is the next step for dicussing some of the more complex issues involved in the EU. The site is part of an international blogging competition organised by the European Journalism Centre and there are bloggers from each of the 27 states (three from the UK) who have been writing on European issues that matter to them. One of the UK bloggers Katrina Bishop gives a frank account of navigating her way through European politics, combining serious analysis with lighter content like "broadcast bingo"- measuring the number of times politicians use cliches in party political broadcasts. It's a good way to break up what can otherwise be a painful subject to push through.
YouTube and Twitter
Finally, the EU parliament do of course have a YouTube channel. The videos range from adverts reminding people to vote, explanatory vignettes on how the EU works, and clips from mini studios that have been placed around the UK for members of the public to "put their questions" to Europe.
But as mentioned earlier, the EU machine and individual MPs seem to be lagging behind on one vital ingredient- Twitter. According to one bit of research, only 27 out of a possible 736 MPs are using Twitter and two-thirds have never even heard of the site. However, this site acts as a forum for all tweeting MEPs, and suggests they are doing better than that.
There is also a way of keeping up with the bigger debate about the elections in the Twitterverse- TweetElect09 keeps up with EU-related tweets in real-time, analysing and categorising them by country, candidiate and other variables. Hash tag #eu09 is also up and running.
So there you have it - a fool-proof guide to the European elections using social networking tools. I'm hoping later in the week to write another post about what specific candidates are up to on the web, and I know there will be loads of really great blogs on a whole range of European topics, but for someone who started off today knowing very little about what was happening, I now feel a bit more connected. Hopefully no-one is left feeling the same same way as the girl in this slightly odd promotion video.