Does social media influence politics?


The new fashion in Australian politics seems to be leadership change. In the past ten years, we’ve seen Rudd overthrown by Gillard (only to succeed in a subsequent challenge a couple of years later), three federal opposition leaders in the Rudd/Gillard government era, the overthrow of a Victorian premier and subsequent election loss, two or maybe three leadership spills in the NT, and a Queensland premier suffer a thumping loss at an election. Political life seems to be a lot more unsettled now than it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

So, what would happen if Holt, Gorton and McMahon were reincarnated and chose to be politicians in the ‘twenty-teens’? How would they cope with the constant news cycle where any mug (this one included) can write a blog, send a tweet or post on social media and have a chance that it will be noticed and assumed to be ‘the truth’?

Technology is an amazing thing. Children today just ’don’t get’ the miracle of Instant Messaging, ringing people outside the same ‘zone’ and the ability to gain information on practically any subject on a device you hold in your hand. In the days of Holt, Gorton and McMahon, as there is today, there was a press gallery in the Federal Parliament House. The difference is that ‘back in the day’, the press gallery members were the only ones who had ready access to the political players of the day. Today, it is somewhat expected that political parties, politicians and members of the press gallery all maintain social media accounts, where should you feel the need or desire, you can read the infinite wisdom of the politician or reporter of your choice as it leaves their keyboard.

It is clear that political intrigue occurred in the past — otherwise the term wouldn’t be in common use. History tells us that Billy Hughes and Sir Robert Menzies were prime ministers while representing different parties at different times. The ALP split into two different organisations during the 1950s. In addition, John Gorton effectively ended his prime ministership when he voted against himself in a leadership vote in 1971.

Whitlam became leader of the opposition during the short reign of Prime Minister Holt (who vanished at sea off Cheviot Beach in Victoria). He was far younger than his predecessor Arthur Caldwell (1966 election campaign advertising clip here) and set about modernizing the ALP. By the 1972 election McMahon was prime minister. McMahon’s 1972 policy speech is an earnest appeal for votes but demonstrates how totally unprepared he was for the emergence of the ‘It’s timecampaign of the ALP led by Whitlam. Like Newman in Queensland 40 years later, Whitlam managed to alienate a significant section of the community in three years. The Liberal Party had developed a pale imitation of ‘It’s Time’ for the 1975 federal election, using the slogan ‘Turn on the lights’ with associated campaign material for the successful campaign to elect Malcolm Fraser. Since then, the marketing of our politicians and politics has only intensified. During the ’80s, Hawke and Keating announced proposed changes to the Australian taxation system prior to the 1984 election and promised to hold a summit to discuss the policy and its implementation after the election. The ‘tax summit’ was held in July 1985.

By the time the GST was introduced in 2000, the campaign had moved to television advertising. The internet was still young in 2000 and ‘social’ media was the ‘women’s section’ of the paper where the latest fashions and who was at the latest elite society party were the general subjects for discussion.

In the past 15 years, there has been a significant shift in the technology available to society. Social media is now considered to be a number of computer applications where anyone can write, discuss ideas and discuss issues relevant to them. Generally known as the ‘fifth estate’, social media (such as this blog, Instagram and similar platforms) gives people without any qualifications as a journalist the ability to discuss current issues and express opinions — potentially to a large audience. Traditional media (the ‘fourth estate’) has responded by creating websites that mirror the content of their existing publication — be it newsprint or electronic media — available through the internet for instant access (usually) wherever you are in the world. In addition, 24 hour news channels have been created such as Aljazeera, CNN and ABC News 24. Nature abhors a vacuum, so there has to be content for all these additional ‘instantaneous’ news channels. Those in the ‘fourth estate’ — some would argue attempting to retain their relevance — now seem to grab every opportunity to quickly publish on their organisation’s website any small piece of information they discover, only to be analysed and discussed by others and then republished.

It is clear that today’s political leaders have more training in how to behave in front of the media than Arthur Caldwell and Sir William McMahon did. Although being in the lifetime of a considerable percentage of the population, Caldwell and McMahon’s wooden delivery seem rather old fashioned today.

None of our three examples were examples of classical beauty. Holt looked his age, Gorton carried the reminders of a nasty accident when a pilot in World War 2 while McMahon was somewhat unkindly referred to as a VW Beetle with the doors open — matched with a crackly high-pitched voice. In contrast, more recent prime ministers, such as Julia Gillard have been subject to discussion of their looks, fashion sense and living arrangements, as well as their physical appearance. It should be said that looks, living arrangements and so on do not in any way determine the quality of decisions made in a leadership position.

We discussed above that you don’t have to be ‘in the media’ to make your opinion known. There are various social media sites that openly publicise their political beliefs (including The Political Sword, The Hoopla as well as the Don’t blame me I didn’t vote for Tony Abbott, a Facebook page). There are a number of equally blatantly conservative political Facebook and internet sites around — ‘search’ is your friend.

In the recent Queensland election campaign, various people and groups took to social media to attempt to influence the vote. It is fair to say that, in addition to the political parties, mining companies, unions and other interest groups all bought advertising on established media as well as social media websites to advance their respective positions. Others such as Dr David Pascoe created Facebook pages to discuss their individual views and by doing so they attempted to influence others. Pascoe somehow promoted an alliance between Alan Jones (2GB announcer), Katter’s United political party and Peter Wellington, independent MP for the Queensland seat of Nicklin, and made a number of posts critical of former Premier Newman and the state’s LNP for his alleged closeness to mining companies while ignoring primary production. While no one will ever know if Pascoe’s Facebook page affected the outcome of the election, he claims he has influenced large companies in their business dealings with their customers here and here — both ironically reported in a newspaper. Pascoe continued his crusade against coal seam gas development by commenting on the New South Wales state election.

Cathy McGowan is the independent federal MP for Indi. She won the seat — a conservative ‘stronghold’ — in 2013. In fact, Indi was the only Coalition loss at the 2013 election. ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy wrote a piece on The Drum describing the process. Cassidy’s article demonstrates social media played a large part in the organisation of the group, and McGowan’s win.

Holt, Gorton and McMahon were intelligent people and rose to the leadership level of a political organisation, so they knew how to ‘play the game’. In the days of media and image management, paid for by the political parties, their images could have been cultivated to make them ‘acceptable’ for the TV news sound bite. The major difference probably is that they wouldn’t have the luxury of reading the morning papers, crafting a message for broadcast that afternoon and moving on, only needing to interact with the established press gallery. The press gallery would have also respected ‘the rules’ and not led discussions on leadership spills and the like, realising that their access might be restricted if they did.

Has the rise of social media made it harder for politicians? In all probability it has because, while they still have the ability to ‘craft’ a message, any personal, private or public misstep is reported. They also have to be ‘on top of the game’ 24 hours a day, as once the audio and footage has been transmitted back to the base or someone has posted an event on Facebook or Twitter, it is out there, without the ability to ask for the story to be corrected or retracted. The public will no longer accept a speech from a politician sitting behind a desk looking authoritarian and like the protector of all they can see. Australian prime ministers for a decade or so now have been walking out to the podium in the courtyard at Parliament House in response.

It seems that social media has influenced politics. Dr David Pascoe and Cathy McGowan would certainly argue in the affirmative. Politicians now have to attempt to make the news, not be the news, while crafting a message and delivering it on cue and accurately. While they are doing that they have to seem to be relevant and responsive to their communities. The alternative is losing the leadership or, even worse, the election.

What do you think?

Postscript: You could also ask if Holt, Gorton and McMahon would be happy to be members of Abbott’s ultra-conservative Liberal Party — after all, former Prime Minister Fraser has resigned from the Liberal Party. That is another discussion entirely.


About 2353

This week 2353 asks whether social media and the fifth estate influence politics. Well, you are here reading this, so perhaps you can answer the question. Please leave a comment.

Next week Ken will take a look at the Intergenerational Reports, not just the recent one released by Hockey but the four that have been put out since 2002.



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Ad astra

22/03/20152353 Thank you for your informative piece on an important subject. Without doubt, the Fifth Estate has taken its place among the panoply of political commentators. Although the Fourth Estate has an array of full time journalists, it is now competing with an even wider array of those who contribute opinion in the Fifth Estate, most ‘amateur’ and unpaid, yet enthusiastic and voluble. If we add those in the social media who use Twitter, post on Facebook, or who use the widening number of sharing sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Linkedin, Google +, and so on, together with those who message or ring radio and TV stations, there is a plethora of opinion ‘out there’ ready to be expressed. It is difficult for politicians to keep abreast of what these people, mostly voters, are saying. They need diligent press officers who can inform them almost hourly, in succinct briefs. That is labor intensive and expensive, but it must now be an essential part of a politician’s armamentarium. The power of the Fifth Estate is becoming more apparent by the day. Those in the Fourth Estate try to keep up with it, and sometimes mirror the opinions expressed there. It’s new world for politicians, fit only for the brave, for those ready to embrace the diversity of views expressed, and ready to assimilate, adapt, and change. Most of the current crop of politicians has been slow to adapt; those that have are charging ahead of the others. The new motto for a politician ought to be: look, listen, understand, learn, react wisely, adapt, grow, develop, and be ready to renew your vision and change course towards a better and brighter future for our nation and all its citizens. Thank you 2353 for stirring our interest in this crucial area of political endeavour.

Patriciawa

22/03/2015 2353, re your post script about former Prime Minister Fraser resigning from the Liberal Party. Well, now he has died, passed on and he really is history! What are my thoughts today? [b]All Passion Spent? Malcolm Fraser’s Passing.[/b] “Kerr’s cur” to me he’ll always be! Why should his passing sadden me? Though Gough may have long forgiven That one great sin, never shriven By this man, its perpetrator, I, lifelong Tory hater, Have all these years maintained the rage, Never able to turn the page, Acknowledge his recent history, To understand the mystery Of the media rush to raise a Glass to a ‘liberal’ Malcolm Fraser. Am I really that unforgiving? Cynical? Perhaps I should have second thoughts, write this differently? But even now while questioning my first reaction, something similar comes up. If Gough forgave him, Seemed to have forgot Words which I have not. He exhorted us To “maintain the rage!” Now, despite my age, I still remember How in November Nineteen seventy five I first came alive To politics here Where there'd been a ‘coup,’ Brought on by you, Malcolm Fraser, “Kerr's cur!”

Florence nee Fed up

22/03/2015When I was young, TV, even radio was in it's infancy. Most read more one paper daily. What we had then were more closely knitted neighbourhoods. Most mothers stayed at home. Had more to do with neighbours, and the local school. Yes politics were discussed. I also saw the birth of the current affairs programme on TV. Mothers joined in the local tennis clubs and other outlets. One worked in large factories, of 2, 3 even many more thousands, were unions were active. Today, all that has gone, Mothers can still be found at the school gate, but hurry onto workplaces. Workplaces, that are much smaller than those of the past. The papers, TV and even radio does not seem as diverse as in the past. People have loss faith, trust and turned off anyway. In many ways, the internet is growing, becoming more accessible, to recreate the bush telegraph and community communication of the past. Yes, even though it is anonymous, seems to create personal place. Gives some the perception of having some control over what they read, what is written. Yes, somewhere we can release our anger, frustration with politics today. Yes, it must have some influence on the greater political picture. Today, one only has to travel on public transport, to see ear plugs in every ear. Yes, iPads, tablets, laptops and smart phone busy being used, in communications, talking texting and catching up on daily events. People no longer have to wait until they sit down in front of TV for evening news. In fact it would be lucky if the TV got turned on. Then their are the oldies like me, have found it a way of not going mad with boredom. Looking at TV alone is not very fulfilling.

Bacchus

23/03/2015Happy Birthday 2353. Hope it's a good one!

2353`

23/03/2015Thanks Bacchus - another year older and deeper in debt! Florence - thanks for the comments (and despite Bacchus' comment above) I wasn't around quite that early. There still are a large number of parents and grandparents/carers that drop and pick up the kids from school - I'm one of them. While politics has always been discussed, there is a far greater opportunity for someone to influence others in the next suburb or town these days due to social media. Patricia - I love both poems. Personally I'll opt for number 2 as life is too short to hold grudges. While I can remember the time - I suspect that Whitlam spoke in haste and later thought about is. They were both good and decent men. Ad - thanks for the endorsement that social media is a 'player' in the political game.

Ken

23/03/20152353 and Florence Yes, the world has changed. We (and especially the younger ones) now expect almost instant information. Florence, I also remember buying a morning paper and an afternoon paper - that was considered keeping 'up to date'. It also reminds me of details that I have come across in my family history research about the pace of communications: the governor in NSW would send a letter back to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, by ship, and get a reply almost a year later. (If it was 'quick' it could be as little as eight months.) I almost feel some pity for politicians now having to respond 'instantly' to every issue. That could well be a reason the political debate has been so downgraded. Many issues are complex and not amenable to an 'instant' response but that is what many now expect. A lot of public servants spend a lot of time every morning going through the media for anything that could be raised during the day and preparing briefs for their minister - that is the best effort, so far, to provide 'considered' but 'instant' responses. The upside of all this, is as you say 2353, that now anyone can publish their views. As I suggested a year or so ago in a comment here on TPS, the modern political blog is akin to the old pamphleteer. Just as the technology of printing allowed that, so the modern internet and social media allows the new form of the pamphleteer. I can see the advantages and disadvantages of the new technology but since we can't change it, we must take advantage. And politicians must adapt.

Ad astra

23/03/20152353 Happy Happy Birthday

Ken

23/03/2015PS Happy birthday 2353.

Patriciawa

23/03/2015Thanks, 2353. Happy Birthday! A present for you..... [b]I Recant.[/b] I recant my too long held views, On Malcolm Fraser who is dead. He was so often headline news, Which this ‘leftie’ always read. He was interviewed [i]‘post mortem’[/i] Live? On our ABC last night! Watching and listening to him, I confess, on this he was 'right'.... [quote]Life is not meant to be easy, But it can certainly delight! [/quote]

2353`

23/03/2015Thanks Ken and PatriciaWA. It would be much worse If I responded in verse Really appreciate the thoughts however :-)

Ken

23/03/20152353 Sixteen tons and what do you get Another year older and deeper in debt St Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go I owe my soul to the company store Tennesee Ernie Ford Any more quotes like that and I will remember more old lyrics. :-)

Ken

23/03/2015There is lots of media reporting about Julie Bishop's reaction, caught on camera, when Hockey was speaking in the condolence motion for Malcolm Fraser. Most reports have related it to reports of possible further cuts to the aid budget (in Bishop's portfolio) as Hockey talked about Fraser having established the Expenditure Review Committee (the Razor Gang). http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-23/bishop-displeasure-youtube-footage/6340684 But I think there is another explanation. Watching Bishop's reaction, I lean to the view that she was not so concerned about her own portfolio but the stupidity of a man who in a condolence motion, supposedly paying tribute to a former prime minister, can start talking about the razor gang. Yes, there is a budget coming up, and yes, Fraser did initiate the ERC, but surely this stupid person could find something else to say. I saw her reaction more as exasperation that here was another political faux pas by the buffoons (to use Ad's word) surrounding her. There she is trying to do her best for the government and the party and she is constantly undone by fools!

Ken

24/03/20152353 I was reading an article by Herbert Docena of Berkley on 'Capitalism vs Climate Justiice' but there was one small part relevant to social media's infleunce on politics. [quote]It indicates the growing inability of the world’s dominant bloc to exercise one of their most potent powers: the ability to set the terms and the language of the debate by shaping how people view the world and categorize themselves. [/quote] I hadn't thought that through before but that is what social media achieves. It makes it so much more difficult for the powerful elites to control the language of the debate, to set the terms of the debate, and even shape how we see ourselves. Now people can express themselves on social media, completely ignoring what the powerful (including the politicians) are telling us through mainstream media. The debate and language of the debate can now be shaped by the views expressed by thousands on social media. That also helps explain why politicians are turning to social media - they have to if they are to keep any influence on shaping the debate, the language, and how we view issues.

Ad astra

24/03/2015Folks Today’s [i]Newspoll[/i] shows Bill Shorten’s net approval moving from minus 14 four weeks ago, to minus 3 two weeks ago, to minus 11 today. The Coalition and Buffoon Tony will be buoyed by the TPP of 51/49 in favour of Labor, better than 55/45 two weeks ago. As Malcolm Turnbull said so eloquently: “Tony now rests in the bosom of his party”. [i]Essential Report[/i] today has gone the other way, from 52/48 last week, to 54/46 today. Take your pick! Tony will be elated that his approval rating soared from minus 35 two weeks ago to a modest minus 32 today. Shorten still leads him in Better PM: 41/36. In [i]Essential[/i], Joe Hockey’s approval is worse than Tony’s. Minus 34: 51/27. What a pair!!! The rest of [i]Essential[/i] is worth a look: http://essentialvision.com.au/category/essentialreport

Florence nee Fed up

24/03/2015Abbott was not as cocky as I expected him to be in QT. In fact, he was all over the place. Maybe he is not putting much faith in Murdoch's poll. Still does not excuse MSM concentrating on one poll, while ignoring all others that are not is step. There would be a lot of in house polling going on. Not that poll mean that much.

2353`

26/03/2015This is the sort of thing that Abbott doesn't need! http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/why-is-the-government-lying-to-rosie-batty-20150325-1m6yhz.html

Ad astra

26/03/20152353 Just another of Abbott's long, long list of lies. He cannot afford to get caught out lying about such an emotionally-charged subject as domestic violence. Does he realise this? Does he care? The man is a liar and a buffoon. I'm part way through writing my next piece: [i]When ideology, dishonesty and incompetence collide[/i]. That article will feed into it.

Florence nee fed up

26/03/2015What the present NSW Gvt has done to DV refuges in this state should be playing a bigger part in the election on Saturday. They have virtually destroyed the system. Taking from those who developed them, handing them to the churches. Includes the infrastructure they built up over decades. Even one of the first, Essie's Women's refuge did not survive. I have never seen any explanation why. As a previous worker in the field, and sadly a victim, this is no place for churches to be.

TalkTurkey

26/03/2015Happy Birthday 2353, belatedly. And Yes for sure Social Media, in the form of The Fighting Fifth Estate, influences Politics, that's why this site exists in the first place - not just to talk amongst ourselves but to make our voices heard and points of view recognised. But I see that The Hoopla has ceased to exist. I didn't go there often but it's sad. Twitter is such instant gratification, and so informative, it sucks ... But our challenge is and always has been to get to as many people as possible, to usurp the perfidious right-wing Mainstream Media wherever we can. I do think that we of the 5th Estate have come far in the last 5 years as far as concerns our own level of political sophistication. No-one can control nor predict the direction Social Media will take, we just have to go with it, but I do have faith that "if there is hope, it lies with the proles"* of the 5th Estate. *Winston Smith's hopeful pronouncement in [i]Nineteen Eighty-Four.[/i]

TalkTurkey

27/03/2015Patricia last week I defined my thoughts on Malcolm Fraser. He was never big enough to apologise, to Gough or to Ewen Mee, and for that I cannot forgive him. And you should feel proud of maintaining your rage until his death. You say it very well indeed in verse. Um, now you've inspired me ... :) So I'll write in verse what I was going to say to Ad astra anyway ... Ad astra, Before you read my doggerel below, you should know that it is a parody of Kenneth Slessor's 1931 poem [i]Two Chronometers [/i] which I have included below my own effort. I've always wondered what Captain Cook would have done if the two chronometers disagreed ... Three Politipolls Three politipolls last week we had: One by Newspoll that looked quite bad; One by Morgan and one by Essential And any similarity with Newspoll's unintential! Newspoll had the difference down to 2 percent Leaving us wondering where all our lead had went, But Morgan told a different tale - The difference was great! For they gave us a lead of TWELVE.- And Essential gave us eight. Newspoll was bruited all over town, Especially by ABC, said Labor's going down! Of Morgan and Essential we hardly heard a word - But they made perfect sense together - Newspoll was absurd! Everywhere the Liberals were delighted, cock-a-whoop, Cherry-picking Newspoll in their loopy Liberal loop And though that may seem bad for us, it's actually quite nice: Loopy Liberals living in their foolish paradise! If Captain Cook's clocks disagreed, I don't know what he'd do: Which of them to give his trust, when he had only two? But choose between politipolls, not only two but three, Agreeing with the two that do agree agrees with me! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This is an excerpt from Kenneth Slessor's 1931 poem about Cook's third voyage chronometers: Five visions of Captain Cook http://www.nma.gov.au/collections/collection_interactives/european_voyages/european_voyages_to_the_australian_continent/navigation/a_never_failing_guide/kenneth_slessor_poem (This link shows the two chronometers involved.) And this one http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0192263/ is one reference to the TV miniseries Longitude, what I think was the BEST TV story ever I did see. It's a [i]double[/i] story, and all the time you are wondering of the man who made the first ones, [i]How did he do that?[/i] I saw it twice on ABC TV but I'm sure it's available on DVD. Two Chronometers Two chronometers the captain had, One by Arnold that ran like mad, One by Kendal in a walnut case, Poor devoted creature with a hangdog face. Arnold always hurried with a crazed click-click Dancing over Greenwich like a lunatic, Kendal panted faithfully his watch-dog beat, Climbing out of Yesterday with sticky little feet. Arnold choked with appetite to wolf up time, Madly round the numerals his hands would climb, His cogs rushed over and his wheels ran miles, Dragging Captain Cook to the Sandwich Isles. But Kendal dawdled in the tombstoned past, With a sentimental prejudice to going fast, And he thought very often of a haberdasher's door And a yellow-haired boy who would knock no more. All through the night-time, clock talked to clock, In the captain's cabin, tock-tock-tock, One ticked fast and one ticked slow, And Time went over them a hundred years ago. by Kenneth Slessor, 1931. Top right: Cook carried the Kendall chronometer, K3, on his third Pacific voyage. Bottom right: Cook carried the Arnold chronometer on his third Pacific voyage.

Pappinbarra fox

29/03/2015Fear not swordsters the people of NSW do distinguish between state and federal issues They retained a gov that was seen to be travelling on a calm sea. But having returned Baird they have gotten the baseball bats out of the closet for Abbott. But there lessons here for billy boy. While it will be impossible to avoid raising the incompetence of Abbott it will be necessary to present a positive vision with real policies for the future. In particular a real plan to address the long term budget quandaries.

Ad astra

29/03/2015Folks I have just now posted on [i]TPS Extra: When ideology, dishonesty and incompetence collide.[/i] Enjoy. http://www.tpsextra.com.au/post/when-ideology-dishonesty-and-incompetence-collide

Florence nee fed up

29/03/2015Abbott has managed to visit Tasmania twice in two days, to be with Pollie ride. Who is picking up cost of the planes to fly him in and out for up to four hours visits. Are the trips justified? No one seems to care about Abbott reverting back to Oppositional days, with photo op and stunts, daily, in up to three states. I call it campaigning, not in his role as PM. Liberal party should pick up the tab.

Florence nee fed up

29/03/2015I think Foley may have also shown, Labor can disagree with the coalition, without playing the man, but policies. Shorten does not need to be in complete agreement with Abbott on may things, as he fears Abbott wedging him. Time now for strong stand on Labor policy. I expect much will change as we approach Labor Federal Conference. Most will be announced before then. This takes extensive work behind the scene. Yes, it is is OK for Labor to say, we disagree, this is why. Make Abbott address present and future policies, not continue his blame game which dwells in the past. Maybe we need to move the attack from Abbott the man, to Abbott the PM and his policies, actions. Just a thought. One learns more about tuning into ABC radio news, even RN. Many programmes focus on background stories. Cover wide issues.
I have two politicians and add 2 more; how many are there?