Was #destroythejoint the pinnacle of online campaigning?

Here’s my latest piece for the King’s Tribune…

I saw a forlorn tweet the other day, saying “we found Jill Meagher, now let’s find …..” using the name of another missing person.

Occasional retweets of the plea bobbed like flotsam in my timeline for a while, then became lost in a torrent of condemnation over Alan Jones’ appalling comments about the Prime Minister’s father.

Like many others that weekend, I joined the campaign to make Jones feel the material consequences of his derogatory remarks. I was heartened to see so many people rouse themselves above the level of petition-whore slacktivist and actively contact 2GB advertisers by phone, email, Twitter and Facebook. It was a striking example of genuine People Power, a sharp-edged reminder that — when provoked — public sentiment can transform from slumbering shaggy dog to noble protector or slavering jag-toothed beast in the click of a news cycle.

At the same time, I felt ashamed that we weren’t rallying for the person who asked Twitter to help locate just one more of the 35,000 people reported missing in Australia every year: just one of the loved ones reported missing every 15 minutes.

Click here to read more…

Post script: Hard won lessons from ‘the Alan Jones’ incident

Ooops Greenpeace!

This week I attended a public affairs conference entitled True Spin, held by the Walkleys/MEAA.

There were conflicts, inconsistencies and knowledge gaps that struck me during the presentations at the conference, but one thing that consistently stood out was the consensus that Shell had badly dealt with Greepeace’s Let’s Go! arctic campaign.

Disappointingly, while several presenters were happy to pile on Shell for their lack of issues management savvy, not one suggested a course of action that could have proved successful for Shell.

I have to admit that the answer does not come easily to me either, which is why I’m less prepared to damn Shell for their inadequacy.

Since then I’ve been pondering what I would have done, and have come to the conclusion that I would have advised Shell to take out full page ads with the text provided below, backed up by a good old fashioned media release that includes a Shell estimate of how much a slick website like that would have cost to establish and run.

I chose MSM rather than social media because corporate messages on Facebook and particularly Twitter can be too easily highjacked: there’s a greater chance that your message will remain undiluted if it’s distributed by the mainstream media via new media platforms than if you do it yourself.

Similarly, the call to action is through email and not Facebook or Twitter where the message can quickly be highjacked and distorted.

So, this is the text of the full page I think Shell should have placed. What do you think they should have done?

Should online commenters register with a credit card?

I’ve lodged a comment today on Greg Jericho’s latest interesting piece at The Drum about privacy and freedom to comment.

My reason for doing so is the confusion that seems to have arisen about whether online commenters should register with a credit card.

I recall discussing this with both Greg and Jonathan Green at The Drum, so thought I would share my views on how/why it could be done.

This is what I had to say:

Another nice piece Grog. The irony of the Australian doing a feature on you yesterday was extreme to say the least.

Only to be exceeded, in fact, by your graciousness and generosity in doing the interview IMHO.

On the credit card point. I think that might have been something you and I once discussed. If so, I suggested that paying $1 by credit card to register to comment on an online news/opinion site would be more effective in proving that one is a “real” person than using one’s Facebook profile (which is a method used by some media organisations).

Using emails addresses or Facebook profiles does not weed out anonymous or pseudonymous commenters (clearly), or the astroturfing that can be perpetrated by them. But paying $1 by credit card demonstrates you are actually who you say you are, because the issuing bank will have made sure of that before issuing it to you. Or you would hope so……

New ABC social media role an empty gesture

Why has the ABC’s appointment of a Social Media Reporter given me the irrits?

It’s certainly nothing personal against the reporter herself, who’s shown admirable ingenuity, not to mention dexterity, in live-tweeting from doorstops and press conferences and then following up with radio news stories while regularly refreshing the content on her Facebook pages. If the ABC job was to report ON social media as well to USE it, then this journalist certainly would be the right person for the job.

But the role is to report on politics. The award-winning radio journalist will be attached to the ABC’s existing radio news and current affairs team and will be “part of a range of measures designed to explore how social media can be used to enhance and extend the ABC’s coverage of national politics”.

So in fact the ABC has appointed a new Political Reporter who will use radio and social media to file her stories. That’s not quite as sexy, is it?

And perhaps this is the nub: I am irked by the fact that the ABC sees the need to explicitly create a social media role – it is to my mind an empty gesture, a case of affirmative action gone mad.

If the ABC truly did see social media as a legitimate new way to report politics, then they would not have created a specific role for one reporter: they would have simply opened up the platform for all ABC reporters to use.

Autism badly served by “Communication Shutdown”

Am I the only person offended by tomorrow’s “Communication Shutdown”.

The campaign website says the event is a global initiative to “raise much-needed funds for autism groups in over 40 countries. By shutting down social networks for one day on November 1, we hope to encourage a greater understanding of people with autism who find social communication a challenge.”

So, this slick PR campaign encourages people to raise funds and awareness by superficially mimicking the social isolation experienced by those with autism. This tribute-form of autism is to be manifested apparently by swearing off Twitter and Facebook for a day.

Did no-one give this campaign a test-run before launching it globally? Did no-one wonder whether this clumsy attempt at empathy would be perceived as counter-intuitive, patronising and offensive?

Social media is in fact a godsend for childen and adults with autism, as well as their families and friends.

Jean Winegardner’s son Jack has autism and she blogs on Autism Unexpected. I was particularly taken with the blog Jean wrote on social media and autism earlier this year. Jean said:

It’s easy to make fun of social media. How many ways do you need to broadcast what you are doing right this second? For parents of children with autism and people with autism themselves, however, social media can be a lifesaving conduit to a social world that is too difficult to interact with IRL—in real life. For people like us, social media is real life. Having a child with autism can be extremely isolating. Friends who don’t understand what you’re going through or who don’t want to be around a difficult child may fall away. It gets harder to take an unpredictable child into public. It can be hard to plan playdates ahead of time if you don’t know how your child will be feeling at a specific time in the future.

Activities that typical kids enjoy may be too overstimulating for a child on the spectrum. Sometimes even when your child wants to and is capable of participating in the social sphere, the invites just don’t come. Some days it’s just too hard to face the stares and judgments of onlookers, so parents end up staying home.

This is where the beauty of social media lies. When there is no one in your life to turn to in the middle of the day (or the middle of the night), Twitter is there. When you have a question about a treatment and you want to know others’ experiences, blogs are there. When you just need some adult contact to take your mind off of all that is so difficult, Facebook steps up. For people on the spectrum themselves, online communication eliminates the pressure to respond immediately in conversation and lets an individual choose what conversations they want to take part in. Web conversation is also more black and white, reducing the need to understand all the non-verbal parts of communication that can be so difficult for those with autism.

Undoubtedly, the organisations that research autism and provide support to families coping with autism would benefit from greater public awareness and better funding.

But is abstaining from social media the right mechanism to achieve this and does it send the right message?

The Communications Shutdown campaign would appear to be yet another philanthropic gesture badly advised by PR and social media “experts”. I place the Generation One campaign in the same boat.

Tomorrow, let’s raise awareness of autism by reading blogs such as Jean’s and tweeting them to others in our Twitter communities. I truly believe more will be achieved by doing so.

Refuse the election media spoonfeed and make up your own mind!

I have sympathy for people wanting more substance from the Australian media this federal election. Truly, I do. As I’ve previously explained, some of the political media’s obsession with election frippery is due to them rebelling against being tightly managed during the campaign. However, I’ve noticed an assertion creeping into some commentary that the media should not only be covering more policy announcements but actively analysing the policy content.

This seems to me to be an abrogation of the citizen’s responsibility to make their own mind up.

I’m not a journalist and I’ve never studied media but I’ve worked around journos for 20 years. I used to think the main value that drove journalists was the community’s right to know, but this has changed over time to a more didactic role. I think this is why I don’t read newspapers, watch tv news or current affairs or listen to the radio. (I will confess however to indulging myself with an occasional viewing of the Insiders.)

My self-imposed mainstream media blackout is due as much to source bias as it is to journalistic bias. I’m well aware that pretty much all information transmitted by the MSM has been massaged or spun by someone – a press secretary, a departmental or corporate PR officer, a lobbyist or an activist. This message is further “refined” by the journalist with juxtaposition against related information and arguments. By the time it’s published, the information can often bear little resemblance to the facts. So I just don’t bother wasting my time reading such arrant nonsense.

This distortion is amplified during an election campaign. Everyone is shrilly trying to achieve primacy for their version of the facts, with accuracy (or even truth) becoming the victim in these skirmishes.

Why has it come to this? Why have we regressed to mostly superficial and combative election campaigns? Is it because Australians have surrendered their natural scepticism when it comes to thinking about politics? Have we become accustomed to having our opinions spoonfed to us by the media and commentariat? I suspect not. The number of people who make up their mind in the last days and hours of an election campaign are enough to change the government. Nevertheless, we are a politically disengaged citizenry. I believe this is because we have never had to fight for our freedom or the vote.

This disengagement should not justify the media stepping in to perform what is each voter’s civic duty. While I agree with comments made elsewhere that journalists should not simply produce a hesaidshesaid story without questioning the credibility of the source, journalists should not be making any comment on the merits of an argument or policy. That is for the media’s audience to decide based on the information provided by the media, not the media itself. Being intellectually lazy enough to expect the media to provide “objective” analysis leads to an acceptance that what celebrity journalists say about matters or policies is an unchallengable truth – more often than not, it is nothing more than their (sometimes informed) opinion.

Anyone seeking to know about parties’ policies should do what they would do if they were about to make a huge financial commitment like buying a house – do your homework! Visit the parties’ websites, ring or email their campaign offices with questions. Talk to the candidates on Facebook and Twitter. Why leave it to Peter Hartcher or Michelle Grattan or Malcolm Farr to tell you what is a good or bad policy? How can you be sure they have the same values and needs as you?

The days of the media as a “medium” between the news-maker and the news-consumer are almost gone. We have made the transition through internet search engines, video on mobile phones and social media such as Twitter. So why do we still insist on MSM meeting our information needs during election campaigns? It’s time to refuse the election media spoonfeed and make up your own mind!

Nirvana revisited

There’s not many things I enjoy more than a passionate discussion.  Maybe a Cherry Ripe straight out of the fridge.  Or the smell of kitten’s paws.  But that’s about it.

Some people have to jump from great heights or hurtle along the road to feel like they’re really living.  My thrill comes from the jousting of thoughts and words.

My passion for debate was kindled at university.  I’d been led to believe at high school that academic success was to replicate what I had been taught.  This edict was turned on its head at university when a philosophy lecturer told me that any answer was right, as long as you could argue it convincingly.

So begun my inquisitive and outspoken approach to most things.

My degree in English literature and psychology led to a career in public relations.  Soon enough, the political world beckoned.

It was my Nirvana to be working and socialising with so many talented wordsmiths, advocates and strategists.  Fourteen hour days were barely a nuisance when they culminated in a philosophical debate with colleagues and opponents in the early hours at a seedy bar.

Those days are long behind me.  It is nearly 20 years since I was a partisan participant in the gladiatorial arena that we politely call politics.  Looking back on those days, I truly believe it is the debates and discussions, rather than the election campaigns and victories that are the addictive element of political life.  We pine for the battle of minds and words with respected friends and adversaries long after we’ve moved on to the “real” world.  Like any addiction, this desire only ever lies dormant.   It can never be excised or cured.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blog.  I realise that it doesn’t actually need a purpose, but for me it is like a secret door to a place I thought I would never visit again.

These days I’m what you might call a “lapsed” political junkie.  There was a time when I would listen to three radio programs and read six newspapers before I was prepared to start planning for the day ahead.   I would read the editorials and the views of the esteemed columnists in each major newspaper before concluding whether yesterday had been a good or a bad day.

Once I ceased to work as a political operative, it occurred to me that I had lapsed back to my high school way of thinking.  I was just replicating what others were thinking and saying.

From that point I decided to use my own knowledge and experience to analyse what was happening in the political world.  These days, I shun all news and current affairs programs.   I skim three newspapers each morning, and receive two electronic media summaries on daily basis.  I don’t read editorials or opinion pieces.

I trust my own judgment and I form my own views.

This is liberating, but mostly pointless because I don’t have any means to put my views to the test.

That is, I didn’t, until I stumbled upon the Twitterverse.    And what an amazing place it is, with whimsy and silliness at one end, sharp edged philosophical debate in the middle, and porn-spam at the other.

I found very quickly that Twitter is like a university pub writ large – a place for high-brow satire, Pythonesque plays on words, hilarious and short-lived situational jokes, love and lewdness.  It is true that prejudice and bigotry make the occasional appearance but they are quickly bounced out the door.  Most of all, the Twitterverse is a place for respectful but lively exchanges of considered thought.

I am besotted with this world and have quickly followed the lead of other Tweeps to the land of Blog to let the thoughts that I’ve had to prune to 140 characters expand and roam free.

I’m not sure what I will write here, or whether it will be interesting enough for others to read.  It will be like putting my views to a rather rowdy bunch at the uni pub on a Friday night – there might be a couple of nods, or I might be denounced or even totally ignored.  Who knows, but I am going to give it a try.

No more posts.