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Politics for a Facebook world

By Samantha Stevenson - posted Monday, 30 August 2010

As our hung-parliament hangover looks set to continue across the next several weeks, the question begs to be asked: how did it come to this?

On election day we weren't even being asked to choose between the lesser of two evils. There really was no significant difference between the two major parties on key issues, including those that had previously proven to be election winners.

A checklist of both the Labor and Liberal Parties’ policies looked something like this:

  • Offshore processing of asylum seekers and keeping children in detention? Check.
  • Complete silence on Indigenous issues? Check.
  • Ineffective policies to deal with climate change? Check.
  • Potential of both leaders to bring strikebreakers in to settle industrial disputes? Check.
  • Opposition to gay marriage? Check.
  • Funding for chaplains in state schools? Check.
  • Keeping our troops in Afghanistan? Check.

Ultimately the difference appeared to boil down to a mining tax (tick for Labor), disparities between parental leave schemes (tick for the Liberals), and the Internet, where quality, high-speed broadband (tick Labor) had to be weighed up against killing off the Internet filter (tick Liberal).

Australia’s newest antihero, Independent MP Bob Katter, got it right when he described such a political landscape as “a Coles-Woolworths democracy”. Both were selling us the same products, there was just different corporate ownership.

Fitting, then, that in an election where there was no meaningful difference between the two major parties, that there was no meaningful difference between them in the ballot.

This was Australia's first real social networking election, which allowed voters to be active rather than passive participants in consuming the campaign. We tweeted to each other, the politicians tweeted to us, and the #qanda hashtag became a part of our vocabulary.

Political discussions previously limited to dinner parties and BBQs in the suburbs were suddenly transferred onto the gated-community of Facebook, where all our “friends” were invited to join us in dissecting the political issues of the day. We reposted media articles, YouTube parodies and invaded each other’s “statuses” to debate our friends (and theirs) about the merit of the candidates.


In the so-called privacy of our “News Feeds” we said the things that couldn’t really be said in the public sphere. We debated the ethics of voting for Julia Gillard for no other reason than electing Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, and we pointed out that - political rebirths aside - Tony Abbott was still just, well, “creepy”.

People changed their profile pictures to pledge support to a Green vote on election day, while Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama “Hope” image was remixed and reshared to message “Abbott: Nope”.

The Greens must have been gleeful when the ABC refused to release The Gruen Transfer pitch ad, knowing that the public broadcaster had unwittingly guaranteed them a much wider audience (and at no financial cost to the Greens) as we mass shared the ad in a Facebook frenzy on their behalf.

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About the Author

Samantha Stevenson teaches in cultural studies at Curtin University.

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