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The new political battleground

Written By: - Date published: 9:12 am, August 30th, 2011 - 23 comments
Categories: blogs, election 2011, interweb - Tags: ,

Sometimes the ever changing nature of the internet can seem overwhelming, sometimes it isn’t even noticed. One thing we can all agree on is the growing influence of the internet on our daily lives. People from all walks of life use the internet to engage with whatever they’re interested in, and usually trends come with the times. The November election will require political parties to adopt social media strategies to entertain the changing attitudes and behaviours of young (and older) voters. It shouldn’t be seen as a frustrating new medium to overcome, but rather an opportunity to engage with voters via a medium that subverts traditional media.

The New Zealand Herald published an article relating to social media use on Monday, setting out that half the adult US population now use social networks. This compares with eight percent in 2005, a dramatic shift in general habits that we often overlook. This study obviously doesn’t focus on New Zealanders’ use, though it seems reasonable to assume the statistics would look somewhat similar.

Of course social networking is not the only new medium gaining in popularity. Political blogs such as The Standard are gaining in readership as people hunger for a broader perspective on what’s going on. Clare Curren created a stir on Red Alert recently with her emotionally charged ‘The Importance of being Labour’ posts. Imperator Fish looks into the issue of whether Red Alert is damaging Labour. A worthy read which I will take a few quotes from,

The challenge with using social media is that it’s dynamic, fluid and collaborative. You can carefully craft a press release on a policy and send it forth into the world to be debated by media commentators, analysts and bloggers alike, but when you stick something up in your site and let people comment you’re allowing the public to give you direct and instant feedback. That should be good in theory, and we should welcome this form of participatory democracy, but the trouble is that if only one of the two main parties does it while the other continues to issue anodyne and polished releases, the impression can be created that a whole pile of people don’t like one particular party’s policies or personnel.”

 The other trouble is that I don’t think Labour has yet worked out how to use social media effectively. People don’t like negativity in their politicians, so overly negative posts just invite counterattack. If you have a crack at someone and then arm their supporters with the means to swipe back (i.e. a loosely moderated comments policy), then of course they will.”

There is some great points in this, and I agree that National not participating in the same way as Labour could be considered a challenge. That is no reason to stop however, if anything, the exercise Labour is taking with Red Alert offers them a chance to dip their toes in the social media waters before being forced to take a dive as no doubt all political parties will this (or next) election.

How the web shaped the Australian election” is a short article on social media during the last Australian Election, here are some relevant highlights,

 “MySpace’s Australian general manager, Rebekah Horne, said that after nearly 12 years of the same political party in charge, more public engagement in the political process was needed. “There was a whole generation of people removed from the political space,” Ms Horne said. She believes the high level of political participation on social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook has shown that we’ve gone some way towards reaching that goal.”

YouTube has proven to have been very popular for most political parties during the Australian campaign, with several policy announcements first being released online. Ms Horne believes the success of Labor and the Greens has been a result of them embracing and participating with social networks. “Kevin Rudd is as popular as the effort he puts in – that’s the key to social networking. He is engaged on all social networks and he’s reaping the rewards,” Ms Horne said. “I’m quite surprised that the Liberal Party haven’t been as engaged.”

It would be prudent to first note the Liberal Party failed to adopt social media strategies like Labour and the Greens, and an argument has been put forward that they paid a price. Can we draw parallels with National’s lacking strategy toward social media? Are conservatives scared of the community power found in social media? It is an interesting consideration.

What can be discerned from the above quote is that social networking is only going to become more ingrained in political campaigning. An article in the Southland Times, titled ‘Internet action heats up’ focuses on the use of social media for the upcoming campaign (no link available). Clearly there is growing interest in how political parties will choose to interact with social media this November, and with the growing participation of our population in social media it must be an interaction that is nurtured and engaging.

The left has an opportunity at this election to step out ahead of the right via innovative campaigning on social media. The left has the chance to build a platform of engagement with the community, and thankfully the left generally attracts people wanting to be engaged in a community. The right has this opportunity too, will they take it? They probably don’t need to bother, or at least that must be the attitude they have.

How can Labour and the Greens create a campaign to engage New Zealanders over social media? A very pertinent question in the coming weeks, and one that could be crucial to their level of success at this election.


23 comments on “The new political battleground”

  1. Raymond A Francis 1

    Well I like and applaude the effort Labour has put into Red Alert
    Trevor Mallard who in his past political statements had came across as a sport bully (remember the thing about beer bottles) turns out to human in his blogging

    The point that Imperator Fish makes about negativity is a good one that all political blogs should learn from. The whole Labour meme that John Key is a light weight fool while possibly true, is saying to the voters (well 60%+) that they are fools for voting or polling him as a good leader
    This is not the way to win votes from the undecided

    • Jim Nald 1.1

      NZ facing up to Nov 2008: the voters’ national mistake

    • lprent 1.2

      I’m afraid that I really don’t blog to win voters. I blog to discuss politics amongst the mainly left. It allows communication between the politically involved rather than being some kind of media/communications exercise. But I’m not a politician…. What I am is someone who has been on the social media for a long time (On Thursday I’m off to a IRL dinner with some of the kcbbs crowd – a social even that started about 1991 as I recall. And I’d been on the BBS’es for quite some time before that).

      Subtle point, but much of the discourse about Red Alert simply doesn’t apply outside of the politicians blogs.

  2. thejackal 2

    I think you’ve been far too kind to the National party Rijab. Clearly they’re a bunch of cowards who fear the public and will avoid engaging because it will show them to be lacking. Even with the MSM’s biased reporting, we still see many instances of National incompetence.

    Instead of a National run blog site, we get the pseudo National site Kiwibog, which just bans any left wing commentators. Whenever the DF’s associations are questioned, he bleats about Kiwibog not being funded by the National party. FFS!

    A lack of engagement by the National party is not limited to social media… they purposefully ignore reputable research and international statistics as well. National is a blind and hollow party that has no substance or plan to make New Zealand a better country.

    That’s because National is all about telling people what to think, instead of listening. They simply don’t care about the people they’re meant to represent, they only care about looking after themselves and their rich mates. A National party blog site doesn’t fit into that philosophy at all.

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      “Whenever the DF’s associations are questioned, he bleats about Kiwibog not being funded by the National party.”

      Kiwiblog isn’t funded by the National Party in the same way that the government isn’t borrowing to pay for tax cuts. That is, David Farrar is paid to conduct polls for the National party, and the government is borrowing to rebuild Christchurch.

      • thejackal 2.1.1

        Exactly Lanthanide. It’s similar rhetoric to beneficiary bashing will help poverty, asset sales aren’t privatization and budget cuts to education and woman’s refuges etc, aren’t really cuts. Apparently the youth unemployment figures and child poverty rate isn’t correct either.

        Just to reiterate the point about National disengaging, here’s an article about them refusing to accept free books written about the Corrections Department’s failure to rehabilitate people. National’s excuse for not accepting the research is that the title of the book is too provocative.

    • kriswgtn 2.2

      yeah they banned me within a hour of joining hhaha
      hell i didnt even get a star

      national’s trademe rightwing community petrocks are easy to torture hahahaha

    • Instead of a National run blog site, we get the pseudo National site Kiwibog, which just bans any left wing commentators.

      That’s nonsense. There’s very few bannings that I’ve seen. I’ve been branded a leftie there and at times I’ve been extensively attacked by commenters but I’ve never been demerited (I think I’ve been prewarned a couple of times) – and I’ve directly criticised DPF at times.

      In my experience KB allows a wider range and type of comment than here, and of course there’s pros and cons with that. There are frequent attacks on National and Key that are not obviously restricted. I’ve criticised National and Key on KB without restirction.

      I do agree that National MPs don’t engage, I’d prefer to see them accessible on the Internet.

      • thejackal 2.3.1

        That’s nice Pete George. I was banned forever by the DF… No demerit, no warning. I guess the same rules don’t apply to right wingers like yourself.

        Not that I mind all that much, I find the comments a bit annoying on the account there’s so much disinformation and bigotry. I bet the DF feels right at home.

        Perhaps the National MP’s do engage under pseudonyms @ Kiwibog. It would otherwise be a bit lonely for them, all alone as the only political party without a blog site.

        • Pete George

          I don’t see you listed on the banned list, was it under a different pseudonym? It’s rare to see anyone banned outright – what specifically was the reason given? You weren’t Todd were you?

          Talking of pseudonyms, at least DPF make’s it clear what his identity is and what his affiliations are.

          • thejackal

            Yes! My old handle was Todd. I changed it because another Todd thought I was stepping on his toes. I’m not sure what makes the DF’s opinion have any added weight because he declares he’s a RWNJ. Funnily enough, it’s his arrogance that started me blogging in the first place :p I’m sure he would ban me from the internet if he could.

            • Pete George

              Maybe threatening to sue DPF didn’t help your case.

              • thejackal

                My case to get up the DF’s nose you mean? It’s strange that Cameron Slater now thinks that I threatened him. I always thought the DF and Slater were different people. Slater hasn’t realized yet that his host has been interfering with his website because of a take down order. He was even jumping up and down a while ago saying Labour was hacking his site. I’ll never understand RWNJ’s.

  3. insider 3

    Social media is a tool they can use to promote and engage at an organisation level but party discipline means that they can never fully make use of its power because every sentence will be parsed by opponents for hidden agendas and policy backtracks, meaning they can never truly discuss and debate beyond the party slogans.

    Obama’s campaign will be held up as a watershed use of social media, but I suspect it could be a one-off, firstly because it was exploiting a still relatively new medium that was gaining critical mass and politically uncrowded, the next time everyone will be doing it; secondly, voters may begin to see through the superficiality of the engagement and so be far less enthusiastic to take action next time.

    That said, in NZ there may still be opportunity but I don’t think we are quite so willing to buy in to the mass participant campaigns like the Obama one, though that may reflect the greater political consensus here.

    • MrSmith 3.1

      “That said, in NZ there may still be opportunity but I don’t think we are quite so willing to buy in to the mass participant campaigns like the Obama one.”
      Don’t you believe insider, Kiwis are ripe for the picking, they may not buy into a mass participant campaign but Kiwis like an underdog, you just need to find the soft spot, maybe this is the Labour parties plan, shit even I am starting to feel sorry for Goff.

      • mik e 3.1.1

        Just getting the young ones out to vote would be a good start with the twitter facebook etc would not be threatening want a job vote the jobs party blog away

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Righties seem to prefer blogs when they do engage. Social networking sites by their nature deter the anonymity that torys usually crave for their nasty invective and or trolling. It is harder to generate FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) if you are known, identifiable and therefore accountable to some degree. Shonkey’s FB presence is one twist to this observation though.

    The fledgling Te Mana has done rather well with its several facebook pages http://www.facebook.com/ManaParty, with some quite sophisticated debate, and some off the wall ideas too, but this coming from many who are engaging in politics for the first time. And that is what Te Mana is all about so it is working.
    They got FB rolling first and the website http://mana.net.nz/ and Hone’s personal website http://hone.co.nz/ are in the background at this point. There was terrible trolling and down right hatred in the first few weeks that has dropped right off currently with better moderation. The Mana community made it clear inciteful speech was not acceptable and then some of the poor righties whinged when they were outed at their places of work etc. Say what you like, but be prepared to own it.

    Election social networking will go down well with people that just want an answer, or to offer their views in a media they are used to and prefer. And good on Labour with Red Alert despite all its difficulties. RA probably keeps a few tory office ‘workers’ in employment too with all their posts.

  5. In Vino Veritas 5

    Given Labours whining regarding the poor, I would have thought that these poor and the poor middle class wouldnt be able to afford a PC\laptop\smartphone\internet connection\telephone connection to be able to use social media. If this is so, since they are struggling so much and they’ll be wanting to pay rent\mortgage\power\shoes and clothes for kids etc, surely using social media will be wasted on left voters?

  6. Tiger Mountain 6

    It is not about what you think Vino, reputable studies such as at AUTs http://www.aut.ac.nz. part of the world internet project show internet users well into the 80s as a percentage of the New Zealand population and heading for 90%.

    “Most New Zealanders, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or socio-economic status, are increasingly using the Internet for a variety of activities such as social networking, buying and selling goods online, Internet banking, accessing information, learning and entertainment.”–AUT 2010 press release.

    The digital divide is now not about whether you have gadgets and internet access but what you use that access for, often dependent on connection speed and data amounts. Social networking is one of the most frequently used services.

  7. jacqui 7

    Labour seem to rely heavily on spreading their message through the narrow channels of Facebook and Red Alert. They’re preaching to the converted and not going to win any extra votes this way. Also, people tend to ‘hide’ too much activity from groups on facebook, so the channel gets narrower in terms of spreading the message. And how many people are really reading the blogs, other than core voters?
    The wider concern is the average Joe has no idea what Labour are planning as the MSM rarely cover policies, only titbits and trivia. I am constantly getting asked ‘so what are Labour doing about the election?’, the consensus being they appear to be doing nothing, they’re not visible and their messaging is not hitting home.
    I think social media is a fine place to air views and debate issues de jour, but it is limiting in communication terms.

    • Colonial Viper 7.1


      Got to get out there if you are going to win an election. I will be helping Labour out in my electorate this weekend, looking forwards to it 🙂

  8. chris73 8

    I think the problem with red alert is that the MPs using don’t really understand that its a two-way street or they’re not used to such direct feedback to thier ideas

    In fact it must be quite a shock that when they (on occaision) write something thats blatently wrong/dumb they get people telling them so

    Maybe not used to people telling them exactly how they feel?

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      National MPs don’t like criticism to the extent that they will set situations up where they cannot receive any. They will walk out of meetings without taking questions, websites and blog sites are heavily controlled or have no space to make public comments, etc.

      Labour has done pretty well with the running of Red Alert, particularly in the face of organised, and oft personal, trolling.

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