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“Trust Me (I’m a politician)”: Social media shout-outs and The Truth

Jo Scard

We’re all going to hear a heck of a lot of the ‘t’ word in the next two months.

That’s eight weeks. 55 days. A really long time any which way we look at it. The longest election campaign since the 1950’s someone said.

The head honchos will all tell you that you can trust them – all of them. Commentators are releasing books on the ‘trust’ thing to coincide with the election. But we can’t trust all of them at the same time, so how do we work it out?

There will be ads. Policy manifestos. Leader’s debates. And it will go on, and on, week, after week, after week, after week, for quite a while.

As my 14 year old son said to me over the weekend – the election campaign will go for 1/6 of an entire year, to be precise (his Dad is away for the duration of the election so he worked it out). That’s a while to keep that trust thing going on so I wish them all the best of luck.

This election, don’t just expect to see them all on TV, radio or on your favourite news platforms either.

This election Facebook will be the dominant platform for politicians. The recent Victorian election demonstrated that for the first time – Facebook was a more popular platform to use than Twitter or personal websites to reach marginal voters.

Facebook will allow our politicians to reach typically inaccessible voters, in particular young voters, or ones that don’t give two-hoots about political stuff. From a political leaders standpoint, Facebook provides well established trust networks, where people and their ideas are endorsed by peers.

The health of our democracy depends on the success of its deliberation as to who leads and the development of legitimate policies.

When we look at it closely, social media actually seems incompatible with supporting democracy.

Online behaviour suggests a few reasons. People choose to reinforce their own political views via their online actions and people are reluctant to express their views on social media if they think their followers will disagree.

During this election we’ll no doubt see many political discussions occur online that are neither rational nor democratic. That’s because political information on social media lacks detailed arguments and is mostly highly opinionated. As we know, the act of using social media is mostly an activity done alone so it doesn’t encourage inherent democratic virtues – such as respecting your opponents.

Use of social media definitely favours strident expression (or “shout-outs”) over real debate, arrogance over understanding, and anger above respect.

Nonetheless, all sides will use social media – Facebook or whatever – to tell us to not trust the other ones, and it will be hard to strip that back and peel away the shouting to understand what the real discussion is and who we can really, truly, trust.

Call me cynical but it will be interesting to see how social media impacts this time around; whether it creates more of a burden on us than it does liberate or inform us. Hamstrings us rather than helps us. I hope not and I’d be interested to see what you think, let me know.

Image of ‘full length people…‘ via Shutterstock

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Jo Scard

With over 20 years' experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ'd in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle. More about the Author

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