The role of social media in the 2010 Australian Election
The day after the astonishing outcome of the Australian 2010 Federal Election, which saw an historic potentially hung-Parliament outcome with power pivoting upon the whims of three or four independents and one Greens MP whom a new Government will need to accommodate to be appointed by the Governor-General, it seems inconceivable that the role social media played has been largely ignored by its mainstream cousin.
With almost 85,000 tweets using the #ausvotes hashtag within the last seven days alone, it’s obvious to anyone participating that social media, and Twitter especially, is an advocate-rich community, ripe for the picking by savvy campaign managers. Unlike other media, Twitter is interactive, targeted, immediate and multidimensional. Users don’t have to be encouraged to participate, messages are repeated and re-distributed by advocates, and best of all – it costs next-to-nothing.
Bob Brown and the Greens have utilised Twitter particularly well during this campaign, actively engaging with supporters and critics to clarify, solidify and communicate their policies on issues of importance. They’ve created a sense of excitement about the process, and in my experience, this has directly encouraged previously apathetic voters to take an interest and express an opinion.
Other political identities have also utilised Twitter and other social media to varying degrees, most notably Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull, who personally tweet, and Julia Gillard, whose account is used more as a ‘Team Gillard” mouth-piece. There is some excellent analysis of political social networking participation at thesocialelection.amnesiarazorfish.com.au, www.parkyoung.com.au, and election10.com.au.
Although the ABC’s ‘Lateline’ and ‘Q and A’ programs have displayed tweets on-screen during their live broadcasts, and Channel 9’s ‘Election 2010’ coverage occasionally displayed some of the more inane thoughts offered by Tweeters, the impact of this phenomenon has remained unexplored. One has to wonder whether this is due to perceptions that Twitter is only used by the teens and twenty-somethings, or whether those driving traditional media programming simply don’t want to acknowledge this alternative and potentially powerful media, and threat it poses to advertising revenue and “journalistic integrity”.
Make no mistake – The Greens used twitter very effectively to generate grass-roots support amongst climate-concerned voters, who in turn carried their online passion into their homes, workplaces, schools and clubs. Twitter is as responsible for this incredible outcome, where the public have shown massive dissatisfaction with both major parties with a significant swing towards the Greens specifically, as any other single factor. It remains to be seen how long the mainstream media and other political pundits continue to ignore this massive political resource.