First we had Kevin Rudd posting selfies on Instagram. "My Twitter and Instagram feeds have become saturated with daggy photos of Kevin Rudd, and I'm sick of it," complained an articulate 18 year old to The Age. (1 August 2013). But this was just a hint of things to come as Australia officially entered campaign mode.
With the announcement of a 7 September election, the ABC News launched #VoteCompass on Twitter, an online tool to help voters compare their views to the parties' policies. Before the day ended they had around 55,000 responses, and more than 2500 likes on Facebook.
A quick glance at the Vote Compass site adds fuel to Julian Assange's "media-ocracy theory" – where he writes "what's politically possible is defined by the media environment." It appears that this theory can be extended to social media reach - and the decision whether to ignore it during the election, or assign it some significance.
Vote Compass questions regarding which parties you would vote for "if an election for the Senate was held today" provided the following list: out of the 13 choices, coming somewhere way below the Australian Sex Party, the Shooters and Fishers Party, and The Australian Christians was "Other". No mention of the WikiLeaks Party by name.
And yet according to WikiLeaks Senate candidate for Western Australia Gerry Georgatos, a special Morgan Research Poll held in June showed that 27 per cent of Victorians may vote for Julian Assange and Dr Leslie Cannold for the Senate, 18 per cent in NSW for Kellie Tranter and 16 per cent for Georgatos in Western Australian. "If this research holds true on election day there will be 4 WikiLeaks Senators," he writes.
But perhaps the "independent, non-partisan network of political scientists" who developed the site along with "a team of political scientists from the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney" haven't seen this research. Or indeed, kept up with the fact that the WikiLeaks Party has a larger – and growing – youth oriented social media presence than the other smaller parties listed by name on the Vote Compass questionnaire.
This is important because according to a report by ABC News 24 presenter Richard Davies (4 August) social media could prove to be a game changer in this election. In The Australian (5 August), Jamie Walker adds "Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are no longer augments to campaigning, but pillars of it to reach and engage younger voters."
That should come as no surprise. Every smartphone is a way into people's awareness this election, and almost half of Australia's adult population now own one. Take-up soared by 104 per cent to 8.67 million units over the 12 months to May 2012, according to research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Walk around the city, sit on public transport, go anywhere, and you will see people of all ages with their heads bent as they trawl the Twitter feeds or scroll through their Facebook pages. The social media reach of political parties and contenders matters.
If that is the case, then the WikiLeaks Party being left off the #VoteCompass list for the Senate matters, because being on the list – rather than listed as "other" – confers a level of gravitas to any party. Naming the independent party contenders in a Senate list acknowledges and reinforces their legitimacy over "the others" – the nameless who lack this conferred political authority ordained by Vote Compass.
Who then are the parties that VoteCompass has deemed more worthy of being listed by name in their Senate questionnaire? And what is their social media reach, given this is an election to be fought in the trenches of the Internet? Let's look at the main players first:
- The Australian Labor Party: around 33,000 Twitter followers – while the Prime Minister @KRuddMP has an impressive 1,305, 532 followers. Harry Edwards (The Australian, 5 August) pointed out that Rudd fired the first social media salvo of the election by Tweeting the election date 20 minutes before his official televised announcement. If nothing else, every journalist and citizen journalist in the country must follow @KRuddMP - or miss out.
- The Liberal Party: Though they do have an embedded Twitter feed and nearly 30,000 Twitter followers on their website, it is obvious the opposition hasn't benefited from hiring strategists (including social media experts) from US President Barack Obama's latest campaign.(The Australian 5 August) Unlike the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott has a mere 150,000 Twitter followers – Julia Gillard boasts more than 400,000 and hasn't Tweeted since 10 July: "Will see you all down the track".
- The Australian Greens: 11,000 Twitter followers, with leader Christine Milne lagging behind Rudd and Abbott with 24, 571 followers. (Former Greens leader Bob Brown currently has nearly 68,000).
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