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The Worm turns: serves the media not democracy

Written By: - Date published: 11:11 am, July 14th, 2014 - 35 comments
Categories: democratic participation, election 2014, interweb, news - Tags: , ,

I am really sorry to see the return of the Worm this election.  And even more sorry to see the great institution of Scoop involved in its return.  It’s bad enough we have way more polling than we need, interfering with democratic process.  Now we have even more of the same with the way the Worm is to be implemented.

worm

There are various ways that both polling, and the Worm, no matter how scientifically sophisticated, interfere with, and skew democracy.  In general, it results in the accentuating of politics as Game: like a games show in which people try to pick winners, and crowds get caught up with the momentum of the celebration of politics as Game show.

It interferes with democratic and in-depth debate of policies and values, and reduces the focus to the uncritical surge of mob mentality.  And, in the use of smart phones for voting, it gives more power to the top sectors of the digital divide.  Furthermore, it risks producing self-fulfilling prophecies that influence, rather than merely predict voting intentions.

Scoop Independent News has formed a partnership with leading polling company, Roy Morgan Research, to bring the original Worm back for the NZ 2014 Election.

Roy Morgan’s online, mobile and live Reactor tools record the unvarnished gut reactions of voters, displaying how positively the public feel about specific things NZ politicians are saying on the television.

The Worm has previously has frequently caused a stir in the US, Australian and NZ elections. TheReactor (the original Worm) first appeared in NZ on TVNZ for the Election Debate in 2002 Then on TV3 in 2005, 2008 and during the live TV3 political debate in the NZ 2011 Election.

“The Reactor is ground-breaking as it enables crowd-sourced reactions to provide a precise picture of how specific developments, political promises and news events affect the public mood,” says Scoop Publisher Alastair Thompson. “The art of political punditry is to interpret these things based on hunches and experience, The Reactor provides us pundits with data and evidence to back up our views.

Media and polling companies are getting too caught up with their own roles, capabilities and power, rather than focusing on the best ways to serve democracy. Journalists and editors will be involved in processes of selection and presentation of key moments during each week:

A video clip of the previous weeks Political Highs & Lows will be compiled by Scoop and we will invite Scoop Media Cartel readers to participate by giving us five minutes of their time to tell us how strongly they agree or disagree with what the politicians are saying.

Initially the NZ Election Reactor will invite New Zealanders everywhere to react Online with theReactor. In the coming weeks we will also deploy the Mobile Reactor App to reach as wide as possible an audience.

This is providing intense media scrutiny of people’s immediate feelings, converting them to graphics and stats, in visual form, rather than inviting more measured reflection and in depth scrutiny and debate: saturated media focus on Scoop and Roy Morgan’s interventions.

This bit of the Scoop/Roy Morgan press release is highly significant:

“The Reactor has been proven over more than 30 years to be remarkably accurate predictor of how electors feel about key issues and, ultimately, how they vote.

They are making the basic mistake in assuming that correlation equals cause -as-they-have -judged-it.  It is just as likely that there is this correlation because the use of the Worm influences how and if people vote.

Politics as Game, and turning the whole election campaign into a media and poll company orchestrated Game Show, is likely to turn off many people from voting – especially if they start to see the outcome of the elections as inevitably pointing in one direction.

Focusing on Politics as Game, over more considered reflections and analysis of policies, political track record and values, results in many voters, especially those with least social, economic and political power, becoming cynical about politics: cynical about the extent to which voting can result in genuine democratic representation.

It is part of the whole neoliberal, postmodern sham that results in easily manipulated populations: where instant responses dominate over deeper reflection; where visual representations (videos, graphics, etc) dominate over extended debate in print and spoken language; where individual personalities dominate collaborative team efforts, policies and values; and where representing emotions dominate over reasoned analysis.

The value of the Worm can be summarised in 2 words: Peter Dunne.

PeterDunneHair

Vote left this election – consider the options, debate the issues, don’t let the Worm dominate.

Labour green mana left

 [Update 15 July 2014] Rosie has reported on her use of the Worm technology. Extract from her comment:

Predictably I whacked the slider down to zero for every Key sound bite and up to 100 for every Cunliffe one. I imagine Nat voters will do the opposite. But it was a cheap thrill and I felt silly afterwards. I had just participated in a meaningless exercise designed to exploit every bias possible.

What is disturbing is that rather than thinking through and evaluating what the person in the video clip has said, the worm wants your gut reaction. This is a subjective approach and rather unhinged if this is how one makes decisions about voting.

I’m not denying that gut reaction has it’s place, but such emotive responses should be based on prior knowledge – we see that here when people comment on the expected movements and actions of a politician after an “event”. That intuition comes from knowledge about that politicians patterns and can also be gut feeling mixed with educated guesses

 

35 comments on “The Worm turns: serves the media not democracy”

  1. framu 1

    ARRRGHHH!

    for someone who thinks the media should be utterly banned from talking about any poll during an election this is really depressing

  2. NZ Femme 2

    The conundrum for me, is if I take a personal stand not to participate in something I see as farcical and detrimental, am I ceding more space to those on the right who will be frantically participating, thus perpetuating the self-fulfilling nature of the exercise?

    I’m still mulling this one over.

    • karol 2.1

      It’s not necessarily about not participating in the voting, but may also about not allowing the Worm experience to dominate. That requires spending more time responding to in depth debates and analysis, including critically analysing the coverage the Worm gets.

    • Rosie 2.2

      NZ Femme – I had a go on the worm machine, purely for the reason that I am frustrated with the reporting around Left Vs. Right polling and how poll results are used as the entry point for the media to dump all over the Left and make rather wild assumptions about our chances.

      Predictably I whacked the slider down to zero for every Key sound bite and up to 100 for every Cunliffe one. I imagine Nat voters will do the opposite. But it was a cheap thrill and I felt silly afterwards. I had just participated in a meaningless exercise designed to exploit every bias possible.

      What is disturbing is that rather than thinking through and evaluating what the person in the video clip has said, the worm wants your gut reaction. This is a subjective approach and rather unhinged if this is how one makes decisions about voting.

      I’m not denying that gut reaction has it’s place, but such emotive responses should be based on prior knowledge – we see that here when people comment on the expected movements and actions of a politician after an “event”. That intuition comes from knowledge about that politicians patterns and can also be gut feeling mixed with educated guesses

      I think the worm is a worry for that reason, and for it’s influence. Like karol I was disappointed to see it’s return. Also surprised to see that Scoop is hosting it. It’s more like a stuff.co.nz thing.

      I’d far rather there were no polls at all, no matter who is in government. They are used to create false narratives and to manipulate voters opinions and voting intentions.

      • Tracey 2.2.1

        Gut reaction is about the “hot buttons” and is what our people behind our politicians want us to base our vote on cos it is easier for them to manipulate. careful thought, analysis, or even looking below the surface is not the profile of a voter that suits the political machinations. Someone who deals with facts is harder to manipulate provided they are searching through “real” facts.

        • Rosie 2.2.1.1

          Exactly Tracey. It’s a breeze for our leaders when the citizens aren’t thinking, not assessing facts. We are far more malleable when we are engaged with our primal gut emotions, no matter how temporary and fleeting they may be.

      • karol 2.2.2

        Thanks Rosie. That’s an important report and observation on the use of the Worm. I’ll add a link to your comment in the post, to make it easier to find your comment in future.

  3. Tracey 3

    “This is providing intense media scrutiny of people’s immediate feelings…” – Well, is it? Surely it is giving scrutiny of the feelings of those who read scoop media cartel or will go online to interact with the Reactor? It strikes me that initially that will be a relatively narrow group of “type” of person and their feelings?

    • karol 3.1

      True – I wasn’t meaning that it was scrutinising the feelings of THE PEOPLE, but of some people.

      • Tracey 3.1.1

        ..and therein lies the problem because the results will be presented, picked up (I predict) by the MSM and reprinted and the results will be the focus not who responded. In a way it will become a scurry of volunteers from different parties trying to skew the results (how you successfully dot hat I don’t know).

        “Who can get the most volunteers online, or set up an automated software programme to replicate humans 😉 )

        This kind of stuff is a dream come true to those who think politics is a sub set of advertising and marketing, so watch the “hot buttons” take over the speech of some of those in the debates.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.1

          This kind of stuff is a dream come true to those who think politics is a sub set of advertising and marketing, so watch the “hot buttons” take over the speech of some of those in the debates.

          QFT

          We really do need to ban the publishing of poll results in election year.

          • Blue 3.1.1.1.1

            “We really do need to ban the publishing of poll results in election year” (because it makes us look bad) FIFY. What about ‘the MSM don’t like (promote) the left and that’s not fair’, that’s always a good one. The old hoary chestnut ‘the media is biased against us (when it should be biased for us). Do a better job then, have a message that voters agree with, try a leader who’s not so utterly unlikeable, park the envy, stop moaning, try smiling. No one enjoys people banging away fomenting misery, although they do say misery loves company. Probably explains the Greens.

        • Liberal Realist 3.1.1.2

          “Who can get the most volunteers online, or set up an automated software programme to replicate humans 😉 )”

          10+. This is exactly what is going to happen.

  4. infused 4

    Yes, all people are stupid and cannot make up their own mind.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    • Tracey 4.1

      So why do you suppose anyone wants to use them?

      We all “buy” from emotion, it’s that simple. Figure out what the emotion is (and there will be several) and then tap into that emotion. You can tap into an emotion through words and phrases.

      So, people dont like to be scared. So you scare them into thinking they are under threat (burglaries, murders and so on), and then tell them how you have reduced it. They are not any more or less safe than before but you have made them think you saved them.

      The worm plays into exactly this.

  5. blue leopard 5

    I think this is a very good analysis Karol. I think you make a very good point re turning our democratic choice into a games show and an exceedingly shallow one at that.

    My only experience of The Worm was last year when it ‘turned’. It showed a very clear preference for Goff’s statements and dropped within a few seconds of Key saying anything. The commentators, however, were pushing the exact opposite message and telling us all that Key was ‘winning’ the debates (I don’t know whether they could see the worm graphic or not – I assumed that they could but perhaps not?).

    The contrast between the what the panel was saying and how the audience was reacting was very enlightening – insofar as highlighting the poor commentaries we were receiving from the panel. I guess that it was so enlightening was what set Farrar off who was squealing like a little pig the next day squawking on about the how the audience was a set up and been infiltrated by wicked lefties.

    I guess The Worm will be much better behaved this year after, no doubt, having been hit on the head a few times to ensure it ‘speaks’ the correct party line.

    Notwithstanding the interesting lesson on the panel’s bias that The Worm provided last year – I think you make a very good point re gut reaction, the self-fulfilling prophecy/poll pushing capacity of The Worm and how off-putting this games-show approach will be for many.

  6. Papa tuanuku 6

    #2theleft 2theleft

  7. dimebag russell 7

    what I want to know is who owns the worm and how does it work.
    enlightenment please.

    • karol 7.1

      The linked scoop article says they are using Roy Morgan’s version of it;

      Scoop Independent News has formed a partnership with leading polling company, Roy Morgan Research, to bring the original Worm back for the NZ 2014 Election.

      Roy Morgan’s online, mobile and live Reactor tools record the unvarnished gut reactions of voters, displaying how positively the public feel about specific things NZ politicians are saying on the television.

      More on what (not so much how) it does it in the article. But it seems Scoop & RM choose the criteria that are voted on.

  8. dimebag russell 8

    thanks k.
    so that entitles them to offer running commentaries based only on their own self referenced preferences?

  9. Skinny 9

    Oh great the media frothing tool the worm returns. Why don’t they be a bit more genuine, who the heck relates to a worm?

    Why don’t they use a tool everyone can relate too. How about these media strokers use a penis?

    “oh look says Paddy everyone has a hard on to John Keys idea of a tax cut.”

    “Wow the penis has gone limp like its just completed an ice challenge… after hearing DC is now afraid of being a man.”

  10. deep throat 10

    its more than that.
    when it shows up on every teevee show every night and purports to show how all new zealanders feel then it is a device in service to its proprietors to guide voters to the candidate that is the unspoken beneficiary of its largesse.

  11. Clemgeopin 11

    The political worms and polls should be destroyed by WD 40 which is, ‘Worm Destroy pledge by the possible 40 plus Labour party vote secured Labour led coalition government ‘ by pledging that the worm and the pre-election media polls will be banned by legislation for the last six weeks before an election’ in order to prevent undue, unfair skewing and self fulfilling manipulation of democracy.

    It would be great if ALL parties make that same pledge. A binding referendum on this issue would be worthwhile too, I think. I suspect that most people will agree with the proposal, except perhaps some Hash-Key Nats.

    • Clemgeopin 11.1

      [Could not add this bit as edit was not permitted!]

      Parties could still do their secret private polling as long as the results are not published during those last six weeks.

    • Liberal Realist 11.2

      “by pledging that the worm and the pre-election media polls will be banned by legislation for the last six weeks before an election’ in order to prevent undue, unfair skewing and self fulfilling manipulation of democracy.”

      +1. I’d be more comfortable with 3 months.

      The right would never go for it because the right own the media (or the media own the right?).

  12. Vicky32 12

    The other day I got a survey invitation from Roy Morgan using the Worm, and it wouldn’t work, the video wouldn’t play – I had clicked on the slider in an attempt to make it play, and then wondered what I had accidentally said I liked!
    I emailed them, and they actually admitted that there were “issues”, but I am still worried that I am in their database as liking statements by that nice Mr Key…

  13. Jrobin 13

    Yes blue leopard. Will it have been hit on the head on SCOOP?
    Maybe not. Thankyou for all your work Karol. A ray of sensibility amidst the senselessness of Big Media.
    you know today I had a hunch things are turning our way. Even Mr Espiner did great interview of Collins and Joyce. I knew he was smart it is important that he stop being unfair. Didn’t sound too impressed on the sickening water or the false crime statistics.

    • tc 13.1

      Gluon is on RNZ, you need to start seeing serious questions and govt ministers being held to account on tv and in daily rags.

      Important role RNZ plays it is not big media nor a big influencer with swinging voters.

      The worm is a reflection of its medium, instant gratification for the short attention spanned masses who cant wait for it to be over so they can watch more reality tv, us crime shows etc

  14. deep throat 14

    its just another device fr manufacturing assent for the national party.

  15. Lefty 15

    The worm rewards cliché, innuendo, prejudice and brainlessness.

    There is plenty of this on both left and right so it might be surprising who scoops the worm pool.

  16. karol 16

    And if you are not already paranoid about any form of online voting, there’s this:

    The Intercept: Hacking Online Polls and Other Ways British Spies Seek to Control the Internet

  17. deep throat 17

    this worm is like a tapeworm.
    it is sucking the juice and the life out of democracy in New Zealand.
    someone should kill it stone dead a.s.a.p.

  18. lurgee 18

    I, for one, welcome our new annelidan overlords.

    I’m mostly in favour of things that will attract public interest in the election, as both major parties seem intent on making into a stunningly dull affair.

  19. deep throat 19

    true, but John Key Will have been reflecting on his position over the last week.
    he must know that his health will be irrepairebly damaged if he carries on.
    His millieiu is the apple and dc and miami and his new found friends will value his expertise and he will have more fun than bossing this gang of bucolic neanderthals.

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