Facebook and Twitter v face-to-face politics

By Toby Mason
BBC Wales political reporter

Image caption,
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are a vital part of the referendum campaign

The battle for votes in the Welsh assembly powers referendum is not just being fought on the doorsteps and through the traditional media.

The opposing camps are making the most of the internet to get their messages across.

They might be relatively new innovations, but social media such as Twitter and Facebook quickly found a place in the armoury of political campaigners.

Those slugging it out over whether the Welsh assembly should be granted increased law-making powers on 3 March have taken the battle for Welsh hearts and minds online.

Both sides say an online presence is a vital part of their efforts to win votes, alongside more traditional methods of fighting a campaign.

Nigel Bull, of True Wales, which is campaigning for a No vote, said the internet had been essential to the group.

"If it wasn't for the internet we couldn't exist," he said.

"Thousands communicate with us through the internet, it's absolutely essential. Our biggest source of support is via the website.

"We're using leaflets to get our message across because many people don't have access to a computer.

"We couldn't exist without the internet. We've got 10 area organisers, four regional organisers. We contact one another through the internet."

But he says that while True Wales has used the micro-blogging site Twitter, it is not a central part of the campaign.

"Twitter is a source of entertainment but our numbers are relatively small," he said.

Yes campaigners also see cyberspace as an important part of their efforts ahead of 3 March.

Supporters of Yes for Wales can show their allegiance by adorning their Twitter and Facebook images with a twibbon - the electronic equivalent of a political rosette.

Yes for Wales' Cathy Owens said the internet was a key means of reaching some sections of Welsh society.

But, she said, it was a means to an end, and was no substitute for face-to-face contact with voters.

"We want to use it as a tool to activate volunteers," she said.

"It's not for everyone, but for some it's a way of getting them engaged. We ask people to register as well so we have a good few thousand of emails on our database.

"It's about turning it into offline. We're not doing social networking to get press releases out - it's used to deliver on-the-ground campaigning.

"But, we maintain, it's not for everyone so we need to keep other ways of communicating with others."

The battle is likely to continue right up until polling day itself, when the campaigns will use the online contacts they have built up to remind their supporters to get out to the polling stations where the result be decided.

More on this story