A few weeks ago I was asked to contribute a weekly column discussing how social media permeated the Federal Election. Now the outcome is decided and voters have spoken, it feels fitting to share a quick recap of what we saw, what we’ve learned, and how social media will continue to evolve in the Australian political reality.
Firstly, I had read an article a few months back talking about the impact of Google’s “doodles” (you know, the cutesy drawings that Google overlays on their logo to acknowledge and/or commemorate the relevance of key historical events) on popular culture. (If you are interested, you can find all of them here.) According to this article, it turns out that people’s ability to recall a historical person, place, or thing was significantly higher if that thing had been “doodled.” Well, this election definitely sparked Google’s interest as the internet giant not only created a custom doodle on the 7th to mark the election, but for the first time ever they also set up an online hub for nearly real-time news. Additionally, they created a tailored YouTube index that pulled content from a whole host of courses to provide political coverage.
Second, this was certainly the election of memorable hashtags. Sure #AusPol & #AusVotes dominated the twittersphere and were undoubtedly the most frequently leveraged ways to group tweets into conversations, but there was no shortage of other Internet memes and their ability to trend quickly. I personally got a kick out of the #suppository tag that quickly trended when Tony Abbott misspoke and said ‘suppository of all knowledge.’ But it didn’t stop there as he managed to snafu again as “sexappeal” went viral quickly after another off the cuff remark linking female Liberal candidates with youth, feistiness, and sex appeal.
Thirdly, in what seems to have been a case of too little, too late, the Labor Party’s use of YouTube is something of note. In spite of the fact that “Tony’s Internet” wasn’t run on the official channel, (it was run on the ‘Reality Check’ subdomain of Labor’s main website) the video was viewed nearly 985,000 times and poked fun at Abbott’s proposed National Broadband Network efforts. The video went viral as its mockumentay style was quite comical. Scoring again in this arena, Labor did an absolutely fantastic job promoting this video that showcased Kevin Rudd’s response to a question from Christian pastor Matt Prater on ABC's Q&A. The view was seen about 2.75 million times within a week. I said too little too late as views on YouTube don’t necessarily mean actual votes in the voting booth.
Fourth, I want to take a moment to shout out yet another site that I really enjoyed in the final days leading up to the vote. DontbeaF*#$ingidiot.com (the real URL can be found here and I warn you in advance that the site may not be work appropriate) is a beautiful example of how real people can create real content that goes viral online. Granted, the site’s creator, Jesse Richardson is a digital creative in the advertising industry who thinks about how to do things like this on a daily basis. But his simple site touched a nerve among the voting public. Not only did it amass incredible traffic as explained here, but quickly showed how a single individual could creatively spark conversation quickly.
Lastly, and certainly most crudely, it seems that this election simply reinforced something that we’ve all known for years: that the contest basically boils down to a glorified popularity contest. And in the digital age, that really means he with the most Facebook friends (i.e. “Likes”) wins. Following what seems to have become an unwritten rule of the American political system, the outcome of the election between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd could have been determined without a single vote being cast. Just like Barack Obama had more “Likes” than John McCain the first time around, and more than Mitt Romney more recently, Abbott was trouncing Rudd on Facebook. That doesn’t always hold true … but I’ve yet to see a recent example where that isn’t the way things have gone. And the controversy as to whether all those “Likes” were real or purchased seems to have now died down completely.
A visit to Tony Abbott’s Facebook page today greets all visitors with a “Thank You” and a promise that he’s planning to work for all Australians. We’ll all have to wait and see how well he keeps his promise, but I can assure you that social media will help to hold him accountable and remind him of his pledges to the nation.