The Drama Around #SocialMedia and Politics.

During #QandA on Monday, a lady asked the question about social media that got tongues and fingers wagging.

[box] Leisa O’Connor asked: I have a 17 year old daughter who won’t vote this year but will next time – active debater, articulate, well’s clear she is influenced heavily because Kevin communicates so effectively in the world where she lives – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc...Even if she doesn’t agree with the policies – she is swayed because she feels Kevin Rudd is more in touch.[/box]

I completely understood where the mother and daughter were coming from, and was surprised (although perhaps I shouldn't have been) with the response from a fellow panel member.

[box]Yeah, look, I hear what you’re saying and I suspect it’s not this election that will be decided by social media but maybe the next one or the one after that but not this one... I can tell you most undecided people do not [tunes in to what Kevin Rudd is tweeting today]. They don't. They don't about care about politics. They are not interested. They are doing other things...You know, I'd like to educate your daughter.[/box]

What was more interesting was the response online.  On the #QandA discussion forum and on twitter, people expressed their disdain at young people basing their decisions on social media.

Examples of comments:

[box]Sadly if your daughter bases her votes on who she can see on twitter she won't be a very informed voter.  If people's preference is sitting back relying on social media to educate them on issues then they will not be well informed regardless of how well educated they are. It is also highly possible that it is not Rudd posting his tweets but one of his many media staff. Kevin Rudd is currently acting more like a show pony trying to win people over by popularity instead of proving he is a politician with any substance.  I hope for the sake of Australia that our youth are not that gullible and make the effort to research the track record of all parties before voting.[/box]

twitter 2

Clearly a little opposition to the idea that us young people have no idea...


'Social media' has been discussed, derided, lauded and dissected endlessly since it started taking off a few years ago and began to play a part in  'real' movements.

Perspectives are varied: some see it as the saviour and liberator of the East, some see it as proof of young people losing social skills and capacity to be able to communicate face to face.

At the end of the day, we must remember that social media is a tool, and should be treated as such. A tool itself does not hold any power beyond the power we bestow it through our use.  It has natural advantages and disadvantages but focusing on either at the expense of the other in a public role such as politics is not only foolish, it is ignorant.

I feel strange writing about 'social media' as a discernible 'thing': the fact of the matter is, the forum that other generations seem find so hard (by and large) to get their heads around is just part of the natural fabric of our lives.  It's not as if I grew up as a child-early-adopter either; my parents only allowed me an old school mobile phone at the end of grade 11 (and only because mum accidentally got sent two!).  However, as much as we sometimes hate it, my generation lives and breathes online just as legitimately as we do offline.

Relationships are announced on Facebook, elections on twitter.  Is it different to how it used to be? Yes. Does that make it terrible? I don't think so.

When the television was introduced, people cried the death of the radio.  When the internet was introduced, people feared the death of television.  Now, the latter is yet to be decided but the radio is still around.  Sometimes technology is replaced completely, but often new technology simply extends the reach and scope of information through avenues that were previously inaccessible.  That is the power of social media.

To the question of social media and politics.

Young people are not stupid. We are not completely ignorant, and although many like to believe it, we are not all as self obsessed as the selfie epidemic would have you think.  It is insulting to think that simply because KRudd has an account we will vote for him.  It isn't that he has an account, it is what he does and says with it that matters.

Not all young people are the same and are interested and engaged. This is true. However, the youth demographic is a powerful one indeed and ignoring them and their needs is done at your own peril.  Half a million young people are enrolling to vote this week.  The age bracket of 15-24 year olds is over 13% of the population (ABS, 2013).  There are a few marginal seats in that, I would imagine…

Gone are the days of obsession with and loyalty to a particular type of ideology.  We care about issues, issues that we feel are important.  Whether politicians like it or not, only a very small, engaged percentage of young people will spend the time researching policy and gauging whether or not a particular party aligns with their beliefs.  As such, politicians need to be able to effectively community their standing directly.

What better way to do so than through the forum we are all already on?

If you want to hold a party and everyone is already at one location, what is more effective: going to that location and starting the party there, or convincing everyone that they have to come to where YOU are because that's where you have always had your parties?

The same concept applies.  Young people are active and engaged on social media – Facebook largely, instagram and twitter for the more politically active.  For politicians to be able to communicate effectively, they need to be active on these platforms, and engaged with their audience.  We are the shareholders, the constituents.  We are electing you to represent us. Show us why you deserve our votes.  Earn it. 

We aren’t interested in endless press releases about obscure funding agreements and official statements on a Facebook page that is clearly run by a staffer.  I want to see the personality behind the politician, engage in discussion and debate that makes me convinced that this person is genuine, going to be a good representative, and eventually, deserves my vote.

In a way, it can be seen as ‘show ponying’ as a tweet described.  However, that is campaigning, is it not?

Policies are important, there is no doubt about that.  What wins though, is a combination of good policy, good service delivery and implementation, then good communication.

Using social media is simply good communication if you want to communicate with young people.

It may not win you the election, but at least we were hearing what you had to say.


Oh, and for all the baby boomers’ disparaging comments about the state of the youth if they are deciding who to vote for from social media let me ask: does your average voter not decide after conversations with their friends and family around dinner tables on these issues? How is this any different?


What do you think?


young people