Whether we like it or not, our elected officials swim in the same circles as we and use social media to further their own intentions, for good or ill.
If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have noticed that we live in a world driven by social media. It allows individuals to publicly rant, show off their latest meal or “accidentally” broadcast a picture of their genitals. It allows businesses to engage with their customers, their potential customers, and analyse enough metrics to give a marketer a wet dream. It can make normal everyday people feel that they have a direct connection to the celebrities or sports stars that they idolise from afar. It allows celebrities to engage with their following, even when they have nothing of value to say (cough cough….something about the Kardashians).
It has also dramatically changed the political landscape, meandering through it is a two-way street. Politicians have had no choice but to enter the social media arena to remain relevant as well as take the opportunity to push their own message. Why shouldn’t they? It’s the modern equivalent of spending time in their community, listening to the concerns of their constituency and letting them know directly, how they are going to address them. In fact, it’s efficiency could be somewhat addictive to anyone looking to get the popular vote. Rather than speak to the hundred or so people you manage to engage with on the street, you could be hitting thousands, hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions at the same time. Therein lies the problem.
In a place where everyone suddenly possesses a voice, there are some that simply want to use the medium to make as much noise as possible, to justify their own existence and keep up with the pack. Current and former politicians alike enjoy the opportunity to shock and awe in 140 characters or less in order to stay or become relevant. All you need to do is follow Donald Trump, or his closest Australian equivalent, Clive Palmer to get an understanding of what it’s like to see someone who just enjoys the sound of their own digital voice.
Or you could follow Mark Latham – if you can work out who “The Real Mark Latham” is.
As we desperately try to remind the youth of today, the internet never forgets. Anything you post on a social media account can come back to bite you when you least expect it. Our pollies have been known to have the odd gaffe from time to time; making direct and unfiltered access to the masses a double-edged sword with a very sharp edge. It has given Politicians an opportunity to show their personality as well as their policies with the potential for disaster being at an all-time high.
I for one, think it’s absolutely fantastic.
Putting aside the delightful feeling of schadenfreude when things like Tony Abbott’s speaker tweet from 2011 came back to haunt him following “Choppergate”, the unfiltered access to our elected officials is something that we desperately need. The stark reality is that it’s pretty difficult to wade through the multitude of propaganda thrown at us both directly from political parties (and associated interest groups) and more dangerously from the mainstream media.
Without singling out one major publication or company, in particular, major media in this country have thrown their full weight behind editorialising their own agenda, whatever that may be at any given time. From Murdoch’s “Kill Whitlam” memo to Packer’s switch of support from Keating to Howard, it’s no secret that the media are capable of turning the political tide. In the modern age, it’s even worse. Tony Abbott was a media darling in Opposition, and a Pariah in Government.
This isn’t to say that it’s not always deserved, nor is to say that it’s not in line with public opinion; the editorial agenda remains in line with popular opinion, it has to be to sell itself.
So if we can’t rely on the media industry or the political parties themselves to give us an unfiltered view of what our pollies are about, then why not hear it directly from them? At the end of the day, political social media is not without its own propaganda. In fact, for the most part, it’s a well-oiled propaganda machine. But every now and again we get to see our leaders, warts and all, creating a humanising effect that is incredibly important. It gives a glimpse into what they actually stand for without the cloak of party lines. We need to know what these people are really about. Whilst it’s true that our political system is one based on parties, this is exactly why it is failing. The eventual, uniform agreement is necessary for effective policy and government, but a ban on dissent is a stake through the heart of democracy.
Despite its opportunities, social media is not without its downsides. The political system has been damaged by the obsession with personality politics. Knowing more about a Politician’s beliefs, values and opinions is indeed a healthy thing, but it cannot be the only factor in a voting decision. Policy and strategy still must be the driving factor for everyone.
There is also a risk that too much information can be exactly that. A lack of filter can easily become the downfall of a public figure, seriously undermining any good they may have achieved in the past…just ask Mark Latham.