2007: The (Second) Last TV Election

The next time someone says we’re experiencing Australia’s “first Internet election” or our “first YouTube election”, slap them. Slap them very hard.

Our politicians only see the Internet and the emerging social media as a different kind of TV. YouTube is a place to post commercials, MySpace and Facebook for media releases. Their use of social media is so clueless that geeks attending PodCamp in Perth this Saturday were laughing.

Far from this being the “first Internet election”, it’s more like the The Last Television Election. Maybe the second-last.

Mainstream media was all a-flutter over the recursive TV ad of Howard watching Rudd watching Howard. Why?

  1. It was posted on YouTube. Big deal. Any 13-year-old with a computer can do that.
  2. It was posted within 24 hours of Rudd’s advert. Again, big deal. TV current affairs crews turn around little movies every afternoon.

As of 9am yesterday morning, it had been viewed 20,754 times. The other YouTube videos from LiberalParty07 have around 2,000 views or fewer. Pathetic.

By comparison, Sydney-based Cyrius01’s satire Bennelong Time had 31,702 views: 50% more. An ordinary citizen, with no help from a political party, has a bigger impact than the PM and his team.

The Internet is still a sideshow. The real political hit comes when they’re reported by mainstream media like ABC News with 1.2 million viewers, or even Lateline at a quarter of a million.

The problem with the politicians’ use of social media? They completely miss the basic concept: it’s about conversation.

They’re still locked into a centrally-planned one-way industrial age media model, talking at the public with a broadcast message. Political strategies are still crafted like the Soviet economy of 1948.

John Howard’s MySpace page is a disaster. “About Me” is a copy-and-paste Liberal media release. There are no blog posts, no comments. It’s his presence on the biggest social network site, but nobody’s home. The only personal fact is that he’s 68 — reminding MySpace’s youthful audience that he’s “old”.

Kevin Rudd’s isn’t much better. At least there’s content, but still nothing you couldn’t discover from the ALP website.

The only federal politician who gets it is Senator Andrew Bartlett.
He’s been blogging for three years. His MySpace page reveals his music and film tastes. He was a drummer in a goth band. You get to know the man and, like him or not, at least you can form an opinion. A shame he probably won’t survive the election.

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[Note: This is a slightly-edited version of an article I wrote yesterday for Crikey, building on a piece I wrote last week.]

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  1. Nick Cowie’s avatar

    What got me at PodCamp was the surprise/shock from the audience that political activists from Australia’s major parties would make use of web 2.0 social networking tools, to influence peoples voting.

    I am sure it is happening now, not on the level that Goebbels would approve or what could be done if the parties actually understood how the web and social networking worked. Think a political version or three of lonelygirl13, targeting a specific audience with a specific message.

    Reply

  2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Nick Cowie: Nice point. Yes, people are usually very surprised to discover that the tools they use for recreation are also used for more serious purposes by corporations, politicians, criminals, law enforcement agencies, serial killers, spooks…

    While the Central Committees of the parties really don’t “get” social media yet, they still get their campaign workers involved. In the same way that they organise people to phone in to talkback radio, they ask them to comment on blogs — particularly the well-read political blogs.

    However it’s really obvious when this happens because the people use the same language as the politicians’ “message of the day”. Genuine talkback callers and blog commenters don’t repeat the slogans word for word.

    Reply

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