The Brussels Bubble has been blessed with social media. Denizens who were already interacting and conversing offline, suddenly received a second ‘tool’ to showcase their skills, to network and to hold highly technical conversations; the Online Brussels Bubble.
The people, citizens, own social media. The Arab Spring was a good example of the power that these channels could give to ordinary people. Through social media different scandals have been made public or unhappy customers rapped large companies on the knuckles.
Politics also changed, politicians got more human and are more public than ever, and of course they benefit from free advertisement through various channels. There is/was thus hope for an opening of the ever bureaucratic perceived European Union. As Mathew Lowry (working in EU communications) states it: “Now the EU has, for 50 of its first 60 years, never had to consider European citizens – the only relationships it had were with other denizens of the Brussels Bubble, and governments”.
But on EU social media something else happened, faster than anyone could ever imagine; the Bubble duplicated itself and therefore immediately created an extra membrane of protection, inherited in a safe bastion of Eurocrats, journalists, ‘EU geeks’ and thousands of stakeholders. Euroblogger Ron Patz formulated this very clear, saying that in the Brussels Bubble everybody [who could write a good blog] has something at stake. “So either people limit themselves to not write about stuff where they would have something to say (e.g. not to fall out of message of their organisation or to be accused of hiding interests) or they only do it in the context of organisational communication where you feel that it is often quite strategic and not as genuine as good citizen blogging we know from the national scenes”.
There is just no blogger watchdog mass on European affairs. Citizens who can replace journalists for some matters or who can mobilise their audience in taking part in discussions about topics that matter to them.
And why is this Bubble so tiny and closed?
EU accounts are generally targeting people that are interested in EU affairs. A second reason worth highlighting is the fact that most people outside of the Brussels Bubble have a real job and a real life. “They only follow EU politics and policy on an occasional basis, when they feel it might affect their life. For people in the Brussels Bubble, the EU is pretty much their life”, states a lobbyist.
The EU institutions are however doing their best in getting closer to the European citizen (if that exists). On the Take Part Portal of the European Union website you can find an overview of all initiatives taken over the last years. Nevertheless it is worth noting that a change in attitude and openness will have to occur. Commissioner Reding stated in 2010 that she had put up an efficient monitoring mechanism but that is just the problem; social media is about broadcasting, listening and engaging and not about monitoring only. Monitoring should be the first phase of engagement, but EU social media campaigners still tend to forget this.