In recent years, technology has continued to take over. Every few months there seems to be the latest iPhone released, iPhone 5 or 6 or 6s, who can keep up?? I, of course, am not denying that I am any different, being a 21 year old having grown up in Melbourne’s inner north. In fact, instead of writing this down on a piece of paper or even typing it on a computer, I am using my tablet – one of the latest not-essential-but-making-life-more-convenient gadgets. As technology has improved, our forms of communication have “improved” as well (“improved” in this case meaning quicker and more efficient).
Social media has changed the face of communication and may have even changed the face of the election. After watching a segment on Lateline, I decided I would look into how social media – specifically Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – impacts politics and how it may impact this upcoming election. When I think about social media and politics, the first person that comes to mind is Barack Obama. I’m sure Obama gets extra likes/followers because he is the coolest guy on the planet. We do also need to take into consideration that he is the president of the most powerful country on the planet, but you get what I mean. With 36,500,921 Facebook likes, 35,100,000 Twitter followers (on his official Barack Obama account, he also uses the White Houses’s Twitter for his presidential activities) and 2,400,000 Instagram followers, it is hard not to be impressed. Barack Obama’s usage of social media has “been compared to the adoption of radio, television, MTV, and the internet in slingshotting his presidential campaign to success” (Wikipedia 2013). Obama and his team have even created specific Facebook groups for his various supporters eg “Women for Obama” and “African Americans for Obama”. Social media in Obama’s case has allowed the public to see him not only as a politician, but as a father, a husband, an African American and even a Bruce Springsteen lover. He has used social media to the best of his abilities to allow the world to see his human side and as a way to make a personal connection.
So how does social networking contrast in Australian Politics? Just to look at the numbers: Kevin Rudd has Instagram 67,000 followers, Twitter 1.4 million and the Australian Labor Party Facebook page has 101,120 likes. In comparison, Tony Abbott has only Instagram 784 followers, witter 176,700 but the Liberal Party of Australia Facebook page has 139,324 likes. Over the past couple of weeks, Tony Abbott has even been accused of buying followers on Twitter. The Daily Dot reported that since June 18, Tony Abbott has had a 50% increase of Twitter followers whereas Kevin Rudd only had a 14% increase. These numbers seemed too shocking to be believable.
So how big an impact does social media have on politics? Rayid Ghani, the Obama 2012 campaign’s former chief scientist quotes: “Technology is a supporting tool. It can make a good campaign better, but it can’t save a horribly run campaign with a bad candidate” (Polites 2013). A writer from The Australian, Graham Young (2013), explains that he believes social media is morelikely to favour the Greens or the Labor Party then the Liberals because of the issues that each political party focuses on. He believes that as the Greens or the Labor Party’s top issues are” climate change, refugees, the environment, the National Broadband Network and education” (Young 2013) which are more likely to favour Twitter users. Whereas the Liberal Party’s main issues are “business, money, spending, the economy, security and “boats” (not refugees)” (Young 2013), which Young considers not to be topics that are likely to be discussed on social media.
After hearing the facts on Lateline about the various statistics of how many people like/follow what page/group, my first reaction was that these figures are not the only ones needed to get an accurate picture of politics within social media. I believe that the pages criticizing the politicians are just as important – we shall call them the anti pages. I am aware of the Facebook group “Friends don’t let friends vote for Tony Abbott” (with a massive 159,976 likes) however just googling “anti Tony Abbott Facebook pages” lead me to a few more. “Keep calm Abbott is not PM” and “Tony Abbott will never be prime minister” have 29,665 and 24,906 likes respectively. When I completed this Google search for Kevin Rudd, no such “anti pages” were shown in my search. After some thorough searching, I did find a blog that had a link to a Facebook page called “Sack Kevin Rudd” however the page no longer exists. As Australia is a country with compulsory voting, it is interesting to see how politics may be forced on some who have no interest in it. So perhaps for many it isn’t “who do you want as our prime minister?” but instead “who couldn’t you stand as our prime minister?”. I mean, after all, the ant Tony Abbott page had more likes than either of the Labor Party or the Liberal Party Facebook groups.
In the end, no matter how effectively Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party use social media and how strongly they connect with Australian youths through this social media, it appears that “any voter in their 20s would have trouble supporting him” (Hurst & Aston 2013) based on his old fashioned views. A senior ALP strategist is quoted: “This campaign is now going to be about a choice between a 20th century man [Abbott] and the future [Rudd]” (Hurst & Aston 2013). However, unfortunately it appears that the majority of Australia does not agree with this statement, or that they are just content with living in the past.
So will social media really determine the end result of this upcoming election? I’m guessing no. Nevertheless, it is remarkable to think how social media will impact our future.
Morgan Charis has an Arts degree with majors in sociology and anthropology from LaTrobe University and is now studying a Masters of Social Work.
‘Wikipedia’ 2013, Barack Obama on social media, viewed 21 August 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_on_social_media.
Polites, H 2013, ‘Will social media really decide the election?’, Business Spectator, 14 August, viewed21 August 2013, http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/8/14/technology/will-socialmedia-really-decide-election.
Young, G 2013, ‘Keving Rudd misses the point with social media’, Australian, 19 August, viewed 21 August 2013, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/kevin-rudd-misses-thepoint-with-social-media/story-e6frgd0x-1226699516118.
Hurst, D & Aston, H 2013, ‘Labor turnaround targets Abbott for all-out assault’, Sydney Morning Herald, August 15, viewed 21 August, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/labor-turnaround-targets-abbott-for-allout-assault-20130814-2rwvz.html.