Politics and Social Media

I’m hoping for a change of government in New Zealand come September, but not for the reason you may assume.

Back in 2008 when John Key came to power, Twitter was barely kicking off and Granny Herald had about 40 or 50 thousand more subscribers than today. I genuinely can’t remember being involved in any real-time online conversations about Helen Clark’s Labour government, whereas I now read multiple personal opinions on a daily basis about the latest thing that Key or Brownlee or Cunliffe or Norman has done.

I guess it’s obvious that Trevor Mallard is just as bad as Judith Collins on Twitter, but what about Chris Carter, Cullen and Goff? What would their time in power look like through the lens of personal jibes and dumb hashtag jokes? Did they get a relatively free ride?

When National put through not one, nor two or three, but four laws that appear dodgy in respect of the Human Rights act, I paused before flipping my lid online: surely it can’t be this bad? Surely other governments have done similar things and it’s just my pinko-liberal world-view to blame. Chill out. Right?

Is the Fifth National Government truly a cesspool of dimwitted decision making, or do I only think that because the Twitter echo chamber tells me to do so? I like to think I’m equally critical of Cunliffe’s gaffes and lack of policy, but worry that I’m just suffering confirmation bias. Does John Key truly disagree more with scientific, statistical, and economic consensus than Helen Clark did, or do I just think that because there are more immediate howls of anger from the e-left (iLeft? cyber-left?) when he comes up with another pearler about his “advice” saying otherwise?

To me it looks like no politicians are getting an easy ride online right now, when any fact or opinion can be rapidly fisked by the pyjama army ranks on both the left and right. If anything, it appears that investment in polling and carefully researched talking points is many times more valuable now than it was in the time of controllable media. Just take a look at the nutty “infographics” and crappily crafted motivational posters coming thick and fast from all sides lately: any time a politician says something vaguely quotable it’s turned into a Facebook-shaped meme before bedtime. Most of these are pointless crap, but I guess the plan is if just one of them turns “viral”, then yay votes!

The question I’m asking is this: what does social media look like when your favourite team ends up winning all the time instead of losing? I’m a Greens voter, but I like to think I’ll still be calling bullshit on dumb policy if they’re ever in power. Will they turn out to look just as idiotic as the current bunch? Will Trevor Mallard be an appalling speaker, biased toward the left instead of driving for genuine answers at Question Time?

Basically: bring on a change of government so I can check my bias by trolling left-wing politicians. Also: you’re on notice left-wing echo chamber. I’ll be watching.



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  1. In my experience most political parties are pretty good when they first take power. If they get a second or third term that’s when the wheels start to come off. It happened to the Greens in Germany in the 80s – they came to power and made some significant changes but eventually lost power do to infighting and disagreement.

  2. With so many countries currently experiencing major political unrest (and violence), I am just glad that I live in a country where the most “extreme” political act is the fact that a political party, who may or may not have been in power for too long, decides to try and push through some dumb-ass policies.
    At the end of the day, our democracy works and our “disagreements” work to keep our elected officials honest (most of the time) and (mostly) working for the people.

    1. I completely agree with you there Michael. Ultimately I think NZ’s version of “left” and “right” (whether you label them “extreme” or not) are innocuous and do very little to influence macro-economics.
      It’s sad that they do tend to influence people at the margins disproportionately, but like you say ultimately we live in a stable, healthy democracy and everything else is fine-tuning.

  3. I’ve been talking to people about this in relation to ActionStation – one key role of a movement like ActionStation is to hold decision-makers accountable, wherever they fall on the political spectrum. So if we do end up with a different kind of government, Ben, I’ll welcome your close eye on how well we do that job.

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