W*ll! Fancy *sking the Pr*me M*nister something like that? The things you can do when you are on F*cebook! Just ask A**m Subwoofer H******, apparently, who inserted that into a Facebook interview done yesterday by Julia Gillard. I have done the redactions lest anyone be o**ended. "McPiss off you red-headed bloody McClown" was another gem of subprime public intelligence — at least until Julia’s minders, who were monitoring what seems to have been a bit of an unfortunate venture into Web 2, managed to hit the delete button.
A spokesman for the government said: "This is the first federal question-and-answer session by a major political figure in Australia – it is the first of its kind. There was a huge response in terms of questions; there’s been a lot more that have been tabled for future use. There is a tiny minority of offensive comments and they are moderated after being published."
Certainly this and other recent events concerning someone called Jones have been raising all manner of interesting questions about the nature and place of the “new media” vis-a-vis democratic process, free speech, and so on and so forth, issues raised by then screwed over on Qanda last night – one of the most pathetic Qandas in recent memory, with the exception of a wonderful few moments from Nilaja Sun in response to this:
Jessie Huynh asked: Nilaja Sun: What challenges did you face to change your career path from being a teacher to a solo writer and performer? Was the transition from teaching a group and feeding off the students to enhance your abilities in the classroom, to having a barrier between you and your audience, difficult to adapt to?
Malcolm Turnbull has weighed in with characteristic flair:
I should note in this context another misguided Labor proposal to rein in the media – to provide that media acquisitions, currently subject to clear black letter trade practices and cross media ownership rules, to become subject to a public interest test. This is a concept so ambiguous it is readily open to interpretation in a very partisan political way.
Another point of objection I raised was that it was naïve to imagine that a statutory regulator would make newspapers more benign. After all the Sydney radio shock jocks including Mr Jones, are regulated by ACMA and are regularly investigated and occasionally upbraided for one outrage after another without any noticeable improvement in their discourse.
Even if Mr Jones had made his remarks about the Prime Minister’s late father on air, I doubt if ACMA would have found a breach of the code. Mr Jones has frequently urged the Prime Minister be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag and no breach of the code was found.
But in this case the effective response to Mr Jones was not regulation, or less media freedom, but rather the use by thousands of people of the enhanced freedom afforded them by the social media.
Mr Jones has complained that he has been the victim of social media bullying saying that “ if it happened anywhere else in society, this kind of bullying or harassment or intimidation or threatening conduct, the police would be called in.”
But it is difficult not to believe that he is getting a dose of his own medicine. After all Mr Jones has waged more than a few onslaughts against individuals and businesses and encouraged more than a few email campaigns of his own.
As George Megalogenis observed on twitter today – “We all agree, don’t regulate the media. But why do you want to regulate the masses?”
Mr Jones believes his association with certain products will encourage people to buy them. But if other people take the view that an association with Mr Jones will lead them not to buy those products, why are they not able to tell the advertiser of their view and encourage others to do the same?
Is people power the antidote to media bullies?
SMS and instant messages were powerful enough in years past, but the reach and functionality of the smartphone connected to social media networks has enabled opposition political movements even in the most repressive societies to mobilize and challenge and in some cases, ultimately, overthrow the Government.
The impact of these technologies have been particularly profound in China where despite extensive Internet censorship the Government is now no longer in complete control of the means of self expression. Citizens unhappy with local officials can, and frequently do, take their case online. A decade ago they would have had little chance of their concerns being published in a local newspaper.
As Geoff Raby reminded us last week, there would have been no prospect of the excruciatingly embarrassing Bo Xi Lai saga and related leadership struggles being so widely reported and debated within China in a pre-smartphone era.
So have we reached a nirvana for freedom of speech – with everyone a publisher via their smartphone, a platform so compelling that even the greatest newspaper mogul of all time, Rupert Murdoch, has become a tweep!…
(I also enjoyed, as a sometime Classicist, Malcolm Turnbull’s talk to the Classical Association of NSW, though it makes me feel even more like some mouldering old relic to reflect that when Malcolm was studying Latin and Greek at Sydney Grammar I was already teaching at Cronulla High!)
But at least Malcolm Turnbull seems to know how Twitter, Facebook etc work. On Qanda last night Christopher Pyne, who I suspect also knows, came up with a wildly improbable scenario that the nasty comments in Julia’s interview were somehow part of a plot to distract us all from thinking about the (largely nonexistent) effects of the carbon tax on our economy.
TONY JONES: Okay. All right. I’m going to hear from the rest of the panel. Christopher Pyne, you jumped in there.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, just on the blog…
TONY JONES: Are you suggesting that the staff had some role in this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I don’t know, Tony, but I do think it is peculiar that since her staff are moderating the Facebook discussion, they allowed trolls to breakthrough…
KATE ELLIS: Does anybody here know how Facebook actually works?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yeah, we do but…
KATE ELLIS: Like people post on a wall and you delete it if you don’t agree with it. People post first and then you delete it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, why didn’t her staff moderate those remarks off instantaneously. Why did they live them on there and them make a big political story out of it?
KATE ELLIS: Well, they did. Once they were put up, they were removed.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I just think it’s passing strange that if her staff were moderating this apparent first in national politics, that they allowed these very unpleasant statements to be put up on the Facebook rather than, as soon as they appeared, removing them instantaneously, which didn’t happen. So I think that’s peculiar…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Can I just say that some of the things you’ve said are complete assertions that have been utterly denied by Tony Abbott and you stated them as facts. That’s the first thing. Secondly, the Tony Abbott I know is a person who has absolute regard for strong women and surrounds himself with them. His wife, Margie, his chief of staff Peta Credlin. He loves and respects his three daughters and his two sisters. To suggest that Tony Abbott is a misogynist is part of a smear campaign designed to stop him becoming Prime Minister and let me say this: it is a distraction from the issues like cost of living pressures, job insecurity, the economy, and Labor wants us to have that distraction. They want the Australian public to talk about everything other than the economy, job insecurity, cost of living and the carbon tax and unfortunately that question falls for that Labor Party campaign. To Margie Abbott came out on Friday, because she was thoroughly sick of people telling bald faced lies about her husband. Tanya Plibersek, Nicola Roxon, unfortunately Kate Ellis, others have been responsible for this, what’s been dubbed the handbag hit squad. It is an outrage what people have said about Tony Abbott and it is as offensive to suggest he hates his wife, his three daughters and his two sisters…
GEORGINA FREEMAN: I didn’t say he hates his wife.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …as the things Alan Jones said about Julia Gillard’s father…
Piers Akerman was decidely strange, as Matthew da Silva notes today.
But such debates are part of the culture wars in Australia, as we saw later the same day when Piers Akerman appeared on the ABC’s Q and A. The same kind of issues popped up, and the same fundamental lack of understanding about how social media works. We had Akerman sagely pointing a trembling finger at "The Twitter", and comparing a Facebook page (which he knows nothing about) to a blog (he once moderated one in a professional capacity). And there was the same propensity for the blokes – Akerman, the Liberals’ Christopher Pyne, and ex-Labor MP Lindsay Tanner – to talk over the top of the women. Host Tony Jones was forced to step in on a number of occasions in order to ensure Labor MP Kate Ellis had enough air to reasonably present her opinion on the panel…
Matthew’s main topic in that post is this interview on 2GB:
It’s a long interview and worth listening to. A number of topics were covered, including Alan Jones’ propensity to inciting violence, and his track record in this vein during the lead-up to the December 2005 Cronulla riots. Smith tried valiantly to play down Jones’ role in that affair but this sort of nimble footwork by a 2GB shock jock would merely have further angered those who participated in the social media campaign against Alan Jones. Like the 45-minute "apology" Jones gave after being caught out saying John Gillard "died of shame", Smith’s performance yesterday with regard to the Cronulla riots merely indicates that 2GB radio announcers do not believe that Jones did anything wrong all those years ago. It is difficult to see how progress can be made on the count of public civility if 2GB still harbours resentment over something that was officially sanctioned, and for which Jones received a public rebuke from the media authority. How can the two sides agree on the nature of appropriate conduct in the media if there is disagreement on such basic things?
There is so much around the traps on all this now as the issues raised are rather greater than the bloody Parrot. You can go from Gerard Henderson on the one hand – why do I keep thinking the word “anal”? – to Jenna Price on the other. Or Michelle Grattan:
…there is a fine line — between firms responding to public opinion, and being intimidated by a campaign targeted at them, especially when it bombards them individually. A number of those remaining — before Macquarie Radio stopped all advertising on the program — were small enterprises. Their vulnerability to damage from a tough campaign is proportionately greater than that of larger companies.
By giving ordinary people a voice, social media is empowering voters and consumers. This is obviously a good thing, whether it is to enables them to have more political say or get better service from companies.
But the medium also has potential to bring out the worst as well as the best.
While Jones’ enemies, especially on the left, are glad to see him get his comeuppance, they should also remember that in other circumstances some of his nastier allies on the right could also mobilise support to hunt their targets…
And now, just for fun: