Live Blog: Politics & Technology Forum 2009

Photograph of Joe Trippi

This Thursday 26 February I’m liveblogging from Microsoft’s second Politics and Technology Forum in Canberra. This year’s theme is “Campaigning Online”.

Keynote speaker is Joe Trippi (pictured), heralded as the man who reinvented political campaigning thanks to his work on many US campaigns for the Democrats, and author of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything. He’s also a political analyst with MSNBC and much more, as his Wikipedia entry or Twitter stream reveal.

The political panellists are federal Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull (who tweets as @TurnbullMalcolm) and Labor’s Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, who’s been pushing for better government use of technology for some time.

Our MC is Mark Pesce, who himself has covered similar topics in presentations like Hyperpolitics, American Style.

Bookmark this page, ‘cos the liveblog will start here at around 8.45am Canberra time on 26 February.

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On political reporting

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Crikey‘s Bernard Keane has written a magnificent 2000-word wrap of the year in Australian politics, 2008: Dashed dreams and mouldy political compromise. Every sentence is worth reading — but especially his observations about the links between politicians and the media.

Politics is more or less based around people of high principles and good will discovering that the obtaining and exercising of power involves doing bad things, distasteful things, amoral things, involves unpleasant trade-offs and not just the famous half-loaves of compromise but stale, mouldy crusts. And it’s all the more that way because its symbiotic partner, its Siamese twin the media, dislikes complexity and nuance, in favour of the same simple narratives, repeated with an ever-changing cast of characters but the same plots and moral lessons over and over again. That’s what sells. And what gets votes.

It’s the media’s job, or one of them, to make much of little and it has done that expertly for much of the year, as it does always. History suggests that, barring incompetence on an inordinate scale, Labor will be in power for several terms, but that’s not going to attract many eyeballs. Instead, the most minor political events are forensically analysed, with each tiny feature placed under the microscope so that it looms large to the viewer despite its irrelevance. Recall The Australian’s concerted push for Peter Costello mid-year, undoubtedly motivated not just by a sense of mischief-making but by the moderate inclinations of the obvious alternative to the failing Nelson. After more than a year on the backbench, not a scintilla of evidence has emerged that Peter Costello ever intended to do anything other than what he said, which was to remain on the backbench until he found a job outside politics. And yet we — as in all of us — devoted many pixels and column inches to his imminent ascension, or the unlikelihood thereof.

Afterwards, we forgot all about that, and probably hoped our readers did too.

Never forget the media has a vested interested in convincing you something is happening even when precisely nothing is happening — indeed, particularly when nothing is happening. It is thus wise – and I’m possibly not telling you anything you don’t already know here — to retain a strong scepticism about all political reportage and analysis, no matter the source. We’re all selling something.

OK, I’m biased. I write for Crikey every now and then. But this is why I’d buy it anyway.

Crikey: @KevinRuddPM stumbles into the Twitterverse

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[This article was first published in Crikey on Friday. It covers much the same material as my previous three posts [1, 2, 3] but for a general non-Twitter audience.]

Wednesday 1.35pm. Someone logs into the newly-created account “KevinRuddPM” and types “Looking forward to communicating with you on Twitter“. Thus did our Prime Minister enter the crazy hyperconnected global front bar cum water cooler conversation that is the Twitterverse.

Twitter avatar of @KevinRuddPM

It took a couple of hours for word to spread and for KevinRuddPM to gather his first ten “followers”. But soon the numbers grew. People said their greetings, asked questions and offered opinions — and most of the opinions were calling for an end to the Internet filtering trials. Smart-arses like me even offered snarky advice.

By mid-evening, KevinRuddPM had more than 700 followers. Those hanging out for a response eagerly devoured the second Prime Ministerial tweet: “Thanks to everyone for adding me on Twitter.” [My reaction: OMFG! Kevin Rudd tweeted again!] And then all the followers suddenly disappeared. Huh?

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Welcome to Twitter, Prime Minister

[Update 13 October: Since writing this post last night I’ve written a follow-up: OMFG! Kevin Rudd tweeted again!]

Twitter avatar of @KevinRuddPM

Dear Mr Rudd, it’s wonderful that you’ve joined Twitter. Of course Mr Turnbull was here a month before you, but Twitter has been around more than two years. Even sceptical old me has been here a year. You’re both complete n00bs. May I offer some tips?

The first thing you must understand is that Twitter is about human communication. We already have more formula-driven spin-doctor-approved crap than we’ll ever need. What we want to see is you, Kevin, that smart hard-working control-freak slightly-daggy-but-endearing father of three. The guy who after a long day’s campaigning could still crack a joke with The Chaser crew when they turned up at your home.

This afternoon you walked into the world’s weirdest non-stop front bar cum water cooler conversation and said “Looking forward to communicating with you on Twitter”. Outstanding. And now 430+ people have turned around to pay attention, and quite a few have even said hello. More will join them. What happens next is a conversation. You’ll be judged on that conversation, not what you do elsewhere — though we’ll certainly want to talk about your work. And your pets.

And your tea towels.

I’m guessing that right now your Hollowmen are analysing every reaction to your tweet (singular), agonising over how you should respond. Tell them to piss off. You’re a grown man — you’re the Prime Minister for God’s sake! — so if you can’t talk with a fellow human when they say hello without someone advising you what to say, you might as well give up now.

Just. Be. Yourself.

The second thing, though, is that you will find it strange and challenging. And that’s OK. We all did.

Continue reading “Welcome to Twitter, Prime Minister”

Representative Democracy

Frame grab from mock election advertisement

Here’s a nice antidote to the Coalition TV advert trying to scare us about [gasp!] the Labor party having links to trade unions.

Interestingly, it’s another election-related video that doesn’t have “real” names and addresses at the end saying where it came from. I wonder whether the Australian Electoral Commission will be attempting to prosecute any of these folks for this apparent breach.