Using the internet for politics and the 2007 election

There was a piece in the Sun Herald last weekend suggesting the Liberal Party is “preparing a major internet blitz to reinvigorate itself”. The article contained a juvenile little snark from an unnamed Liberal Party source suggesting that “Christopher Pyne, Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey were the only senior former Howard government ministers who could use a computer.” 

(disclosure: Christopher Pyne is my Facebook friend, while the other two are not (as yet)) (further disclosure: there is a forest of other Liberal MPs who also have Facebook profiles, so someone must be turning on their computers for them)

Using the internet to obtain and engage with party members is a worthwhle approach, although on its own it won’t have much effect on political support. However, as political commentator Rachel Hills notes, the last election wasn’t lost (or won) online. Edgar Crook, Senior Librarian in the Web Archiving Section at the National Library of Australia, did quite a good paper looking specifically at how political parties used the internet in the 2007 election. It can be found at this link (pdf file). 

The paper included a section on the relatively new use (by politicians) of social networking sites, and contained the observation that

successful social networking involves giving over something of your self, sharing interests and activities. Thus a candidate who was prepared to converse, take quizzes, play scrabble games and other quotidian activities on Facebook, was far more likely to develop friendships which could translate into votes. The Democrats and to a lesser extent the Greens, who fielded a number of younger candidates, demonstrated this attitude most ably. Andrew Bartlett, the Democrat Senator, who has been blogging for a number of years, did not have as many friends as Howard or Rudd on MySpace or Facebook, but it would be safe to assume that each friend that he made over the election, could actually be one in real life.

Looking at some of the people I’ve got as my ‘friends’ on Facebook and MySpace, I’m not so sure how safe that assumption is – but then given how few friends I have left in real life after 18 years working in politics, I probably can’t afford to be too picky. (further disclosure: Edgar Crook is also a Facebook friend of mine, although he did write his paper before I whupped his ass playing chess on Facebook – not that I can do these things so easily any more, as the Department of the Senate has just put in place internet filtering which stops Senators and their staff from being able to play Scrabulous (a Facebook version of Scrabble) and Chess while using the parliamentary network.)

In any case, real friends or not, as Edgar Crook rather bluntly notes

A strong Internet election campaign can certainly be said to have helped the Labor party and a weak campaign damaged the Liberals, however as Andrew Bartlett’s Senate loss demonstrates, Internet popularity does not yet make or break elections.

I’m mostly interested in political usages of the internet to greater expand genuine debate and public engagement with politics and issues, but understandbly the major parties are so far using it mainly as an extension of their campaigning and marketing.

Whilst anything which connects politicians more directly with people, even in fairly shallow ways, is probably better than nothing, the real opportunities for internet usage to significantly broaden political debate and engagement will not come from politicians but from the wider community – from niche specialists to general activists to the general public.

For more on that side of the electoral and political process, this post by Kim at Larvatus Prodeo links to a paper by Axel Bruns of QUT on “citizen journalism in the 2007 federal election.”  For some details on the use and impact of blogs and the internet by politicians and parties in Malaysia, see my following post.

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3 Comments

  1. Andrew Bartlett:

    “Using the internet to obtain and engage with party members is a worthwhle approach, although on its own it won’t have much effect on political support”.

    Suggest that your own consistent internet presence – and the word-of-mouth that arose from it – got you a lot more votes than might be supposed.

    [Pity about the unreformed electoral system and the overwhelming power of expensive TV advertising though].

    I said ‘consistent’ because the abrupt appearance of John Howard on the internet just before the election and as a blatant vote-chasing stunt probably cost the Coalition a lot of votes – not just from the young but also from all the older people who now use the internet on a daily basis.

  2. The proof or otherwise of even shallow connection with party members and the community generally,is from the date of Senator Andrew’s blog here.It is largely experimental for other parties.They take that as a worthwhile risk,andthat is what it will be.Finding their feet in another manner,isnt foolhardy orwasteful,unless their content doesnt take the risk of honest experiences with party policies as they are.I think blogs can,if people are willing to think,act as a more clever,but not necessarily more calculating,way of elaborating values that may also be personal,but, not truly realmed out!?I noticed in yesterdays SMH,a letter to the Editor was giving a bit of a serve to the Democrats about assisting the Howard government over matters to do with ports.Somewhere in the mind of the letter writer,he couldnt see, that, that isnt the role of either the Democrats then,or even the Senate,let alone the role of Senators from the Democrats dealing with such policies.But as a shot at the Democrats,from within N.S.W it seemed somewhat elaborative as a failure in understanding processes.The grudge is bizarre,but real, symptomatic of people who have had a lot of bad things said against them,thus retaliate in like fashion.The Senator here could of responded to such letters to deny the frame to the picture painted.War isnt always a matter that the intelligent choose.I still cannot see why wharfies,all along in that period couldnt of been used as assistants to Customs work,and be paid for it.Under AFP,and Customs officials,because of the drug and other contraband phenomena.Perhaps its their own gutlessness in not recommending themselves for doing such work then and maybe now!?

  3. It’s worth noting that there was also the Senators On-Line party. Despite a very poor showing (hardly surprising) it is the first time direct democracy has really had any serious propoents in a federal election. We’re also in the first decade where it’s been feasible on a national scale.

    the Department of the Senate has just put in place internet filtering which stops Senators and their staff from being able to play Scrabulous (a Facebook version of Scrabble) and Chess while using the parliamentary network

    Disappointing. I maintain that these blocks do more harm than good. Productivity be damned, I need my Scrabulous! ;)

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