Not navel gazing at #media140

27 09 2010

The recent media140 event in Canberra on 23 September 2010, titled ‘How is the real-time web transforming politics?’ was definitely worth going to, even if it was lacking in some areas. What I was hoping for was some commentary round issues of social inclusion, especially how social media tools have changed communication in the broader community and how viral media makes an impact on the ground. I was especially interested in how community has used these tools to raise awareness about political issues.

My interest in this event was two-fold. Firstly, it was a fact finding mission for my work at – to see what tools are being used and how effective they are in terms of communicating to our target audiences. Secondly, as my PhD project focused on the relationship between online and offline space, activism and community, I wanted to see if connections were made between who and where and what.

Julie Posetti @julie_posetti was one of the key organisers and she did a fantastic job at bringing together a diverse range of commentators, journalists, politicians and activists that are operating in the social media space. I use the term social media loosely as it may be better described in regards to this event as ‘tweeting for the election’.

One of the key elements of this event was the projection of the live twitter feed on two screens either side of the podium. This was an interesting, albeit at times disrupting voice that distracted the audience from the speaker/s, often with humorous results. I found this was a wonderful way of demonstrating the power of two way communications as the recipient of the information/message had the capacity to talk back.

Rather than offering a summary of the event in its entirety, I have opted to comment of each of the sessions separately to provide more detail.

Keynote 1 – US Ambassador Bleich @USAembassyinOZ – Lessons from Obama’s Campaign

Ambassador Bleich’s opening keynote address explored the success of the Obama campaign in regard to the use of social media.  One of the most interesting and relevant points made in this presentation was the relationship between the use of the web and the resulting actions on the ground. The other significant point made was that there is no difference between communications online to offline – that you need to have substance to the message and clearly communicate the issues – there is no ‘magic pudding’.

Obama’s role was central to the campaign strategy and because of the lack of funds he needed to think creatively to get his message out there. In short, Obama needed his name everywhere and trust his supporters – believing that people will behave in similar ways whether online or offline.

Some of the challenges included how to deal with the ‘end of the season’, when the work has been done and the sense of personal connection is lost. Also, people online feel like they have a closer connection and there is a difficulty in managing the volumes of emails, etc. Also, the political space of campaigning is different to that of governing – as a campaigner you represent your supporters and once in government you speak for the entire nation.

My personal take of the Obama campaign is that it seems to have modeled itself on many of the early net-activist strategies used in the late 1990s early 2000, where activists would share information online and then go out in the community and raise awareness of issues. The media campaign for Obama benefited from the fact that the media tools have improved and many lessons have been learnt from those early days.

Panel 1: How are real time and social media platforms changing political communications: Malcolm Turnbull @Turnbullmalcolm, Christine Milne @SenatorMilne, Possum @pollytics, Latika Bourke @latikambourke, Samantha Maiden @samathamaiden

This panel had a range of views which all saw how social media has influenced political communications in different ways. Some of the main points of the discussion included was Possum’s observation that Australia political parties have not really engaged with new media and there is an inherent challenge to engage new audiences – i.e. preaching to the converted. Latika Bourke commented that many politicians pay lip service to the media, using twitter as a channel to publish media releases rather than actually engaging in two way discussions.

The highlight of this panel was the almost heated discussion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) between Malcolm Turnball and Possum. This discussion unfortunately was nipped in the bud, which was a shame as access is a key issue to the debate on social media.

Interview with Rob Oakshott MP @oakeymp: The Role of Social Media in the New Political #Paradigm

Julie Posetti interview with Rob Oakshott looked at a range of topics, including the tweet backlash of his now famous 17 minute election deciding speech. In short, Oakshott wanted to explain it was a considered process hence it taking so long. He also talked about the mobile app he has that tracks his movements via Google maps at On a number of occasions he questioned the media’s appetite to play the man and not the ball and hoped that more consideration would be made in this area as it detracts from the political issues at stake.

Oakshott also expressed a concern about the ‘fifo’ approach to journalism (fly in-fly out) as it fails to adequately report on community issues.

Keynote 2 – Senator Kate Lundy @katelundy

It is no secret that Kate Lundy is an advocate and supporter of social media and technology. I first saw Lundy speak at a Girl Geek dinner where I also gave a presentation about Dorkbot CBR. In her talk she mentioned how Australians have a history of taking up technology early and that 72% of households have the Internet. Lundy discussed the importance of the NBN in providing access to more Australians and pointed out that it was not just regional and rural areas that miss out in regard to broadband access, citing the Canberra region of Gungahlin as an example. In addition, she emphasised that the NBN debate should be kept separate to the Internet filter debate. Personally, I think there does seem to be an ideological disparity between providing access and then restricting same.

Panel 2: The changing role of traditional political news gatekeepers in the age of the real time web: Peter Martin @1petermartin, Karen Middleton @karenmmiddleton, Lyndal Curtis @lyndalcurtis, James Massola @jamesmassola, Bernard Keane @BernardKeane

The question of the journalist being ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘curators’ of political news on the web was the topic of this panel, which I found to be an inwardly focused discussion on how traditional media can keep control of the news, well, that is how I understood it.

For me, this panel demonstrated that many mainstream journalists are still grappling with this reality that they do not ‘own’ the news and that citizens are commenting and reporting themselves on how they see the news. The most interesting part of the panel was the live twitter feed at #media140, where many in the audience were commenting that the discussion was ‘navel gazing’ and at the end expressing frustration at the panel going over time. In short, the related media theory was not broached, and I tweeted to remind myself of Axel Brun’s text Gatewatching, which has been around since 2003.

Keynote 3 Simon Sheikh, GetUp! @simongetup – Activist Media Models

This presentation from GetUp!’s Simon Sheik started with a video clip of some of the campaigns that the organisation has supported since it started in 2005.

Sheik talked about how politicians and mainstream media has difficulty in understanding who Getup! is and explained that everyone who gets involved is GetUp! He mentioned Senator Abetz’s ongoing criticism of GetUP! as a front for The Labor and Green parties. See GetUp! – A New Kind of Astroturfing

There were a few tweets about how GetUp! raises funds, but for my money the approach is successful for the same reasons that the Obama campaign worked. That if you can build an audience who supports your cause, you will also build capacity on the ground. He used that case of David Hicks as one example of how GetUp! influenced public opinion and political change. The other more recent examples were the successful GetUp! court cases where they took the AEC to the court, challenging electoral laws that prevented voters from enrolling online and the case where the High Court ruled Howard government changes that closed the electoral rolls on the day writs were issued were unconstitutional.

Panel 3: Spin on speed: Controlling the message in the real time web era: Moderator: Alex Sloan @666Canberra, Jo Scard @scardjo, David Hood @davidahood, Jeremy Irvine @jeremy_irvine and Jodee Rich @wingdude

Although there were some interesting observations in this panel there were only a couple of stand out comments for me. David Hood touched on the issue of social inclusion and getting the message heard. Jodee Rich commented that politicians don’t need to be tweeting and broadcasting in the social media space but they need to be actively listening – “running a social media campaign is about listening”.

Keynote 4 Claire Wardle @cward1e – The UK Social Media Election 2010

This was probably the most entertaining of the keynote presentations, which focused on the recent UK election. Dr Claire Wardle impressed the audience with her sense of humour and excellent use of a powerpoint presentation (did I say that!). The presentation titled The UK election and Social Media was made available on Slideshare – which is always useful for referencing.

It would appear that the political parties in the UK all used social media in a way that was responsive to each other and to the community and looks by all means a much more lively and engaged election campaign than Australia’s recent election.

Dr Wardle was able to reengage the audience that according to tweet feeds was becoming ‘snarky’, perhaps as a result of too much discussion that was internalised and circular – media talking about media talking about media.

Some highlights of this presentation included discussions about:

  • the Slapometer (the UK’s version of the worm)
  • #nickcleggsfault – a twitter feed where people blame everything on Nick cleggs
  • Bigotgate – when Gordon Brown complained that a constituent was a bigot and didn’t realise he still had his microphone on

Dr Wardle also talked about the importance of humour and the impact that it has on people because it is an emotional response. Also that we needed to “stop thinking about online and offline as two separate things because they compliment each other”. Check out the Slideshare presentation for more examples.

Panel 4: Alternative views of political news: Peter Brent @mumbletwits, First Dog on the Moon @firstdogonmoon, Mike Bowers @mpbowers, Malcolm Farnsworth @mfarnsworthand Julian Morrow @moreoj

This was an interesting panel in terms of the mix of personalities and roles – from cartoonist to political blogger to comedian to photographer and researcher. Covered a range of issues from the use of ABC footage to the role of satire in politics. Also talked about something that was earlier referred to as the Anne Frank effect, where people are blogging and tweeting in their cupboards as events happen. At this point I was reminded of Salam Pax’s famous 2003 blog Where is Raed? At the time Pax’s blog received a lot of critical attention from people in the blogosphere because of the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces. He has since moved the blog and retitled it Salam Pax: the Baghdad Blogger

Panel 5: GOV 2.0: Participatory Democracy and Citizen Engagement: Moderator: Chris Winter (ABC Innovation), Dr Jason Wilson (CONF) @jason_a_w, Stephen Collins @trib, Craig Thomler @craigthomler, Senator Scott Ludlam @SenatorLudlam

This was the panel I was most interested in seeing and I think it would have benefited from being scheduled earlier in the day, as the issues that came up in this panel needed to addressed far earlier, in my opinion.

Social inclusion, the recognition that social media is much bigger than Facebook and Twitter, the aspirations of Gov 2.0 and the engagement of community were all themes in this session.

Well known Gov 2.0 blogger Craig Thomler announced at the outset that he was a public servant and that he was at the event as a private citizen – a point that needs to be stated, given that as an APS officer he is bound by a code of conduct.

Personally there was not enough about how open government and Gov 2.0 can be invigorated from the inside out, which is a big challenge and one recognised in the Gov 2.0 Taskforce report. Nonetheless, there was some very sharp observations made about the media and other panel discussions. For example, Dr Jason Wilson referred to earlier comments made by panellists about political blogger Grogs’s Gamut and his apparent anonymity. He asked “Who is Grog’s Gamut?!”. In response a handful of people stood up and announced “I’m Grog’s Gamut!” “No, I’m Grog’s Gamut!”. It was a response that had been organised in advance by a some friends (including Wilson) as a bit of a joke because throughout the day the name “Grog’s Gamut” had been mentioned a few times – to the point where Osman Faruqi was tweeting that he had been having a drink every time it was mentioned and that he was pretty well on his ear. From Grog’s Gamut.


It is interesting to note that several days after the media140 conference, there has been renewed discussions on who has a right to comment on politics in the media. Craig Thomler wrote that: Today Grog, of the Grog’s Gamut blog, has been outed by James Massola of The Australian as Greg Jericho, a federal public servant who happens to blog on matters of politics. (27 September 2010)

The fact that James Massola, who appeared on a panel at media140 chose to ‘out’ Greg Jericho and question whether Jericho had a right to challenge political views in the media, highlights that mainstream media is struggling with the concept of citizen journalism.

In summary, if we are going to move towards Gov 2.0, open government and truly social media, then some crucial steps need to be made. Firstly, there need to be a realisation  from government and the media that public servants are citizens and as such are therefore entitled to comment on information in the public domain. Secondly, any type of discussion of social media needs to address issues of social inclusion and access to media. Thirdly, to address the issue of access there needs to be a redressing of the digital divide, another topic only touched on at media140. Finally, there needs to be a fundamental notion of  trust in the community by media and government so that information can effectively be distributed and shared.

Fave #media140 tweets This is a very small collection of some of the tweets that I liked from the event – if you are interested in reading the feed go to #media140

Read the ABC Canberra at Media140 blog for a transcript of the presentations.



One response

28 09 2010
We’re under attack! « The Dummer Press

[…] Blurred vision suffered a blow last Thursday at the Media140 “OzPolitics” conference in Old Parliament House, Canberra. OzPolitics brought together a range of local and international guest thinkers and talkers from across the fields of politics, journalism, the public service and diplomacy. In attendance were the kinds of people who would listen to guests like this, including many people in the very same fields. This led some to criticise the “navel gazing” that characterised some of the discussions. Without missing the point of this criticism, this kind of introspection is a necessary part of a day that brings together people who use social media to discuss these uses. It is even partly what we signed up for, and some amount of it is healthy. […]

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