Journalists, particularly those in the Press Gallery, are often maligned for being out of touch with the rest of Australia (actually, it’s a criticism leveled at anyone who lives in Canberra – for the record I was born and raised there).
It’s not an unreasonable observation. Press Gallery journalists spend most of their days inside Parliament House and many live within a short distance, socialising in the nearby suburbs of Griffith and Kingston, home to many federal bureaucrats.
It’s not a reflection on the dedication or talents of the men and women who cover federal politics, more on the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne when Australia was federated in 1901, forcing the infant nation to build its capital from scratch on the banks of the Molonglo River.
Anyone working inside the Washington DC Beltway cops similar accusations of living in a fishbowl.
I recall arriving in Canberra on a January morning in 2003, having returned recently to The Australian’s Sydney bureau, to cover devastating bushfires that the afternoon before had razed more than 500 homes on the city’s western flank, injured 490 people and killed four.
Many Press Gallery reporters had no idea where the mysterious suburbs affected (Duffy, Holder, Rivett and Chapman) were in relation to the Parliamentary Triangle, let alone how to get there.
It’s against this background that I have pondered the influence of social media on political journalism and political debate more broadly.
Follow many political journalists’ tweets and one thing becomes apparent: they often respond to each other’s tweets. It’s literally a digital version of conversations I had in the pre-social media days with colleagues in the Press Gallery.
It’s hardly surprising. It’s been long-observed that we gravitate towards people who have similar interests and opinions to our own.
But what happens when our conversations are posted online for all to see (or at least those we have 'friended' and followed)?
What does it to political debate and opinion?
By Jessie Cross*
With two state elections looming, you may want to know how social media is impacting your vote. Not only does it influence how you vote, it provides a platform for about one-third of us to spill our voting beans on.
With social media dominating today’s society, it’s no wonder politicians are working hard to create their online personas.
Research shows around 30 per cent of [American] voters have been persuaded to vote for main parties via internet posts – while almost one in five registered voters [in America] has revealed who they have voted for on a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter.
The degree to which some people can impact others’ decision making and choices has sky rocketed. So with the New South Wales and Queensland elections looming, swinging voters are bound to be influenced when it finally comes to voting for a party. The question is, to what extent?
According to Alison Ledgerwood, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis, it is extremely common for people to unintentionally be impacted upon when it comes to decision making. This can be seen through the 61million person experiment on Facebook, led by James Fowler from the University of California.
In 2010, Fowler began a randomised controlled test to see how much influence was carried through social media. Messages were delivered to 61 million Facebook users during the US congressional election. From the results it could be seen that the messages directly impacted upon millions of peoples voting choices during the elections. However, the messages not only influenced the recipients, they also impacted friends or users, and friends of friends.
The influence wielded through social networking is staggering. It suggests through social interaction, either via social media or face to face conversations, people are greatly influenced by those around them. So no matter the size, this voting season any gesture may persuade us to choose one way or another.
*Jessie Cross is undertaking her Higher School Certificate (HSC). She is currently (January 2015) on work experience with Wells Haslem.
A slip up by a small hamburger restaurant is perhaps understandable but multinationals have a habit of sticking
their social media feet firmly down their throats too.
Step up chocolate giant Nestle.
On Sunday night, the Twitter account of Crunch Mexico, used to spruik Nestle's chocolate bar, tweeted: "A los de
Ayotzinapa les dieron Crunch".
The phrase refers to a slang term used when someone is beaten up and loosley translates: "Those from Ayotzinapa were crushed".
Ayotzinapa refers to the killing, burning and burying of 43 students who went missing on 26 September near Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.
The tweet sparked calls for a boycott of Nestle products on social media.
A Nestle spokesman told The Independent newspaper: "We have apologised for this completely unacceptable tweet which is entirely contrary to the values of our company.
"We deeply regret any distress it may have caused. We understand and share the public's concern about this post. We take this matter extremely seriously."
It remains unclear if the Twitter account was hacked.
Either way, it is crucial for any organisation to have a policy setting out how it should engage on social media.
Key features should include a set of guiding principles:
By Benjamin Haslem
UK-based PR adviser, Stuart Bruce, poses an interesting question: is it better to hire a person who has expertise in PR and then teach them about social media or the other way around - hire the social media expert and teach them PR?
Bruce argues for the former and I tend to agree.
Social Media is just one part of the public relations arsenal. You need to understand the art of communication and you need to be strategic.
Who are your stakeholders? What are their attitudes to what you are communicating? What are their expectations? How much influence do they have? Will they share what you have to say with others and would they do so enthusiastically and react negatively to being "used"?
Is Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or LinkedIn the best channel on which to engage?
Is any social media platform the best forum or would an email, telephone call or even a letter be better?
Bruce quite rightly qualifies his view by stressing that some roles are clearly set out for a social media specialist, such as measurement, analytics, and evaluation, though you also need someone to look at that analysis with a jaundiced eye, to pick up patterns a person not au fait with PR may miss.
"An amazing ability with social media analytics wouldn't be enough when the alternative was someone with broader PR evaluation skills and the ability to learn social media measurement," Bruce writes.
That's not to say a good social media specialist can not shine in broader public relations. Just as I was hired by Jackson Wells after 10 years as a journalist at News Limited and today do more than handle media management.
By Benjamin Haslem
Your choice of words and the emotional response it elicits in the reader can either make your message highly effective or a disaster.
The meme at left was posted by a friend on Facebook.
It was originally posted by a group called Young Mums.
I am the father of a boy who is severely allergic to peanuts. He has to carry an epipen with him. One peanut consumed, without a shot of adrenaline from the epipen, could kill him. Thankfully, we have never had to use the epipen.
So I came to the meme with a certain lack of objectivity.
I am also a passionate opponent of the anti-vaccination movement, which poses a grave risk to public health.
My initial take on the meme was one of anger. To my eyes it was cheapening the risk posed to some children by peanuts.
The words "because someone might be allergic" smacks of condescension or a sense that people are being put out or inconvenienced, especially when contrasted with the message below.
It also suggests the danger posed by peanuts is not very high or even exaggerated.
However, my friend argued that he read it as along the lines of (to paraphrase) "why is it that as a school community we can organise to ensure our playgrounds are safe for kids with peanut allergies but we can't make parents vaccinate their kids?".
That's a reasonable interpretation for someone who doesn't have a child with a peanut allergy.
But the problem with the meme is that the choice of language doesn't convey that message.
By Benjamin Haslem
"I realize that it seems like a hashtag is a trivial thing. But actually it's not. It's an SOS to the world."
The quote above is from Ramaa Mosley, a Los Angeles commercials and documentary director and mother of two.
The hashtag she is referring to: #BringBackOurGirls
The SOS to the world was a call to action through social media to developed and powerful nations to save 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram on 15 April.
Mosley heard about the kidnapping on her car radio on 19 April. Upset, she went online and found some news on the abductions on African websites "but couldn't find anything else in the United States".
Mosley, like others on Twitter, began tweeting the hashtag to "Barack Obama, my senators in California, to any celebrity that I could think of and within a few hours, I started getting responses".
As of 7 May #BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted over 800,000 times.
The hashtag was created in Nigeria by locals enraged by a lack of action by their national government and the indifference of the western media.
It worked. Suddenly there was an outpouring of press coverage internationally of the kidnappings and the origins and motivations of Boko Haram, which incidently has been engaged in a reign of terror in Nigeria since 2009, killing some 5,000 people.
As Mother Jones' Erika Eichelberger explains: the kidnapping and the initial radio silence "hit a nerve in the Nigerian diaspora and among communities of color, and in particular women and girls," says Adotei Akwei, a former Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International.
Christopher Anzalone, an expert on political violence and terrorism at McGill University, agrees. "I think that the media in certain places, such as the United States, which did not initially report much on the most recent kidnapping, may be trying to 'make up' for their tardiness."
The onslaught of media coverage also spurred the Obama administration into action with US Secretary of State John Kerry offering to send a team to Nigeria to help search for the girls.
Mosley also created a Facebook page, which at writing has over 75,000 likes.
The Daily Mail online has an excellent gallery of photographs uploaded on social media.
By Isabelle Walker
The internet is now celebrating 25 years of existence.
And I for one haven’t even reached that milestone.
Yes, I am younger than the internet.
That’s a scary thought, because although rationally it’s obvious that the internet would be a quarter of a century old, the technology is continually innovating that it always seems like a burgeoning, infantile technology ready to expand into the future.
From the beep of the original modems connecting through the phone line to having to compromise land-line calls in order to connect, many of us share funny little memories of the early stages of the internet.
From “You’ve Got Mail” to “The Social Network”, the internet has inspired and written a new era of human interaction. “Google it” has entered our lexicon arguably in a way no other phrase has in the last fifty years. The constant effect of the internet on the social and cultural landscape is inexplicable.
In the last few years, however, the gigantic impact the internet has on the social, political, and cultural landscape has been abundantly apparent. The 24 hour news cycle, facilitated by endless connection to social media platforms like twitter, facebook and Instagram, as well as the constant digitisation of news resources, has meant information has travelled faster and further than ever before. No good gaffe goes unpunished and whatever you (possibly accidentally) put out the universe through the web cannot be undone.
The political impact of the internet goes so much further.
The Arab Spring was united by internet savvy youths who learnt, through Facebook and Twitter, that oppression from their totalitarian leaders was not something that happened throughout the world, and through the power of this media they protested and tried to overcome the tyranny.
Images, videos and reports constantly flow from conflicts zones such as Syria, Venezuela, and the Ukraine, reaching millions upon millions of people, placing immense social pressure on international community to act.
The internet has transformed in ways beyond conventional measurement. It has changed the way people live, interact, gather and share information, love, experience, and create. It has been a vehicle for good and evil in the world.
It is in no way perfect and in no way able to be regulated.
But as we navigate the challenges that the constant evolution of the internet crafts, we become better problem solvers, more creative thinkers, and more aware of the world around us.
Happy birthday internet.
By Benjamin Haslem
In a further insight into how rapidly the social media landscape is changing, Mashable reports a study has found 77 per cent of US college students are using Snapchat daily.
Snapchat is a smart phone and tablet app that lets users take photos and record videos, add text and drawings and send them to a controlled list of recipients.
Their creations - known as Snaps - only appear on screen for between one to 10 seconds before being deleted.
The study also included information that hints at the app's value to marketers, with about half of those surveyed saying they would open a snap from a brand they they did not know.
Nearly seven in ten said they would add a brand as a friend if they already followed it on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms.
Snapchat is yet to generate any revenue but its founders - Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy - have already turned down an offer to sell for US$3b cash from Facebook and US$4b from Google.
A number of brands are already using Snapchat to market their products, including Taco Bell, Honda, the New Orleans Saints, Rebecca Mincoff and MTV UK.
It would be interesting to know how many people are using Snapchat in Australia.
The Snapchat data was collected by Sumpto, a New York-based marketing company that identifies college students who are influential on social media and connects them with brands.
It should be stressed that most respondents to this survey had to sign up to Sumpto, so the sample is likely skewed toward early adopters.
By Isabelle Walker
It has been reported that the Federal Coalition has instructed its political staffers they will be prohibited from posting their political opinions on their personal social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
While this has been met with accusations that North Korea is more transparent than the current government and that the policy resembles what you would expect from a real life Orwellian dystopia (courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald readers' comments), it would be prudent to examine this policy within the complicated context from which it comes.
These days, everything is about image. No benign remark goes unnoticed and the 24 hour internet news cycle, padded mostly by relevant though disposable news snippets, is ever fed by high profile gaffes, ill-thought out assertions and conjecture.
It is within this minefield of online scrutiny that political affiliates are watched carefully, ready to be caught as soon as they stray one iota from the politically correct line that they are instructed (and expected) to toe.
This, possibly unfortunate but undeniably necessary, is the reality of modern politics. With the heralding of the online era, citizens have the chance to become personally involved in reportage of news and current affairs. There were live blogs and tweets during former PM Rudd’s removal and reinstatement, and the best place to gather up-to-date electoral information on the night of the September 2013 Federal Election was Twitter, not the ABC.
However, amongst the constant barrage of #hashtags and 140-character apropos of nothing, an overzealous scrutiny of the political sphere has rendered autonomous humans unable to independently express themselves, even with disclaimers that their views are their own and not those of their employer.
It is within this context that it is completely understandable for any organisation to instruct its employees to exercise caution and discernment for what they post to potentially billions of people, opinions that are never able to be retracted or forgotten, which leave an indelible mark in cyberspace.
Not only is making personal statements about your workplace or the industry you exist in arguably unprofessional but potentially extremely damaging to you and your organisation.
The social media policy enacted by the Coalition is modelled directly on the one administered by the Rudd government in 2007. It banned political commentary on personal social media sites. In addition to Rudd’s policy is the clause which prohibits publication of online commentary, material, books or articles relating to any ministerial portfolios or the Abbott Government.
Though it would be ideal for any person to express their political opinion without that opinion being a reflection of their employer, it is not realistic.
Your social media presence, like your professional behaviour, language, dress and demeanour, reflects your employer. The policy merely attempts to prevent the opportunity for anyone to distract from more important issues such as formulating successful policy and running the country.
The idea that the government is on a mission to curb transparency within its ranks, a charge likely to be brought by the social media collective, is a stretch. Just as any corporation or company would be entitled to do, so too will the government ask that their staff reflect the values, prudence and professionalism that one would expect from the group of people in charge of running the country.
Besides, if they are doing their job correctly, their political stance should shine through in their work, not their micro-blog.
1. Is Social Media Stifling Political Debate?