Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Twitter trickery, Twiplomacy, and Facebook fakes

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One of the strangest political parodies of the 2014 election is the Chinese Teamkey waste disposal company.
One of the strangest political parodies of the 2014 election is the Chinese Teamkey waste disposal company.

This could be New Zealand's first real Twitter election campaign. Certainly it's the case that some of the most colourful, conflictual, and insightful political debate is occurring in the Twittersphere at the moment. Some of this is due to fake and parody online activity, and some is due to quite instant and candid interaction from politicians and other 'Twitteratti'. And in other online mediums there's much to be gained from having information made available directly to voters.

Parodies and fakes online

The Twitter hashtag #TeamKey, unveiled at National's election year conference a fortnight ago, continues to generate debate and is taking on a life of its own. This can be both helpful and a hindrance to the party. One of the most creative parodies has been what appears to be a Facebook account for the Chinese Teamkey waste disposal company.

But the Listener's Toby Manhire has come up with the evidence to expose what had been a rather convincing looking but unfortunate coincidence - see: Team Key: nappies and vomit bags since a few days ago.

In his column, #Politics, Barry Soper adds to the debate: 'Does make you wonder though whether someone with a German accent, and who's definitely not on #TeamKey, is behind the Facebook page on #Teamkey that started just a few days ago. But before Labour gets too excited about the Chinese claim in the hashtag game, Vote Positive in the twittersphere gets you to a site for hot male models'.

Other commentary on the #TeamKey hashtag includes Al Jazeera's New Zealand opposition takeover National Party hashtag, which highlighted examples of the hashtag being used by opponents.

Meanwhile, Toby Manhire has another excellent satire piece of his own on #TeamKey in the Herald's No 'J' in #TeamKey: the strategy emails leaked.

For a very thoughtful and critical analysis of National's Twitter strategy, see Matthew Beveridge's #Teamkey: Some thoughts. Such articles show why Beveridge (@matthewjpb) continues to be the must-read scholar in New Zealand on the politics of Twitter. See also his analysis of Labour's hashtag: Labour congress #forabetternz.

Also see Beveridge's recording of recent fractious Twitter relations between two potential coalition partners: Labour and the Internet-Mana Party.

There's no shortage of critiques of the politicians' online campaigning at the moment. And even though Frank Macskasy Daily Blog critique of National's marketing is incredibly overblown and fanciful, he still makes some good points and draws some colourful comparisons - see: Dear Leader loves you! Our cult of no personality.

On the other side of the political spectrum, David Farrar puts together some excellent analysis, but weakly connects it with an irrelevant Twitter typo by the Labour leader - see: Cunliffe won't go if he loses.

Labour's hashtag

All the talk about National's hashtag raised expectations for Labour's own efforts a week later. These came in the form of its own campaign hashtag, #forabetterNZ, with an accompanying 'Vote Positive' slogan. These led to a roundup of Twitter feedback in Teuila Fuatai's Herald article, Main parties' messages short and sweet for twitterati.

Andrea Vance connects Labour's internet campaigning with its efforts on the ground: 'Labour's strategy is straight from the playbook of #TeamObama lynch-pin David Axelrod (now working for UK Labour). Mobilising the grassroots - through door-knocking, street-corner meetings and phone-calls- is combined with making use of complex data on individual voting intention. Personal details (using Facebook, Twitter and software) are harvested from "undecideds" and used by volunteers in their doorstep pitch' - see: Keynote speech test for Cunliffe.

Labour is also announcing today that it would create a new government position of 'Chief IT Officer'. The party's ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran - Labour's 'Twitter Warrior' - is also interviewed in Critic magazine - see: A Day in the Life - Clare Curran.

For a discussion on Labour and National hashtags, listen to a Radio New Zealand discussion, with commentary from Massey University political marketing specialist Claire Robinson - listen: The Panel (listen from the 9-minute mark).

John Key's Twiplomacy, and politician missteps

John Key's Twitter activity has been measured against other world leaders in a new report by global PR agency Burson-Marsteller, which has established the Twiplomacy website. For their Twitter analysis of New Zealand and John Key - see: Prime Minister of New Zealand; John Key. Amongst the analytics and observations, the report says 'The most popular tweet is the one sent right after New Zealand's defeat during the America's Cup on 25 September 2013 that summed up the nation's collective emotion with one word and a hashtag: "Bugger #AmericaCup".'

While the '#TeamKey' hashtag hijacking appears to be more amusing than anything, a more cautionary tale of social media for National MPs will be the experience of Judith Collins, who took a self-imposed break from Twitter after clashing with TVNZ reporter Katie Bradford. I covered this in more detail back in May in my roundup Judith Collins v the media and Twittersphere.

In a wider column from later in May, Communicating politics - the good, the bad, and the 'f&%d', I looked at a controversial Budget day tweet from Jan Logie and the issue of potential Twitter regulation in the House.

More recently, another low-profile election candidate found herself under scrutiny for her earlier tweets - see Harrison Christian's report, I'm no Nat, says Labour candidate Anna Lorck.

So why do politicians keep getting into scraps and trouble in social media? Perhaps it is the tension between using the new tools as a rather unexciting 'broadcast' medium or as a way to genuinely engage with voters.

In the wake of the Collins incident, Toby Manhire provided some useful suggestions for MPs in Advice for tweeting MPs. In a partly tongue-in-cheek piece, Manhire offered some serious advice in a point headed 'Don't engage': 'After Collins blew a gasket on Sunday, Key advised politicians to use Twitter "as a broadcast medium". Such a suggestion will be blasphemy to New Zealand's several thousand social media experts, but he's right. If you're a senior politician, err on the side of non-engagement. Unless you're completely confident and proficient at it, just don't.'. More general advice was offered by Listener technology columnist Peter Griffin in a December 2013 column - see: Nine tips for social media.

Is avoiding social media altogether an option? Gerry Brownlee pointedly avoids Twitter and said in 2012 that earthquake complainants were those who had time to 'buggerise around on Facebook all day'. Last week, Michael Field pointed out that foreign minister Murray McCully is also not on Twitter, but as last week showed, this is no guarantee of avoiding trouble altogether - see: #TeamKey has alot of tweets to catch up on.

What do insiders say? Katie Harbath, Facebook's Washington-based Global Politics and Government Outreach Manager, was recently in New Zealand and gave advice in an extended interview with Radio Live. She was keen to point out the vast popularity gap between Twitter and Facebook - something that politicians should remember when trying to connect with voters. For more, see Eamon Rood Idealog article, Will Facebook's 'megaphone' make a difference?.

Supporting statistics from research company Roy Morgan are included in Beck Eleven's Women of (social media) influence. According to these September 2013 figures, Twitter had 268,000 New Zealand users, while Facebook had almost ten times that number, at 2.2 million. Eleven details four interesting social/political tweeps to follow: Sarah Wilson (@writehandedgirl); Cate Owen (@CateOwen); Jackie (@whaeapower); and Marianne Elliott (@zenpeacekeeper).

Election hubs - aggregating politics online

If all the action on Twitter seems too overwhelming, it might pay to consult one of the growing number of election-related hubs. One very promising example is Massey University's umbrella site Massey Votes. Two upcoming subprojects, On the Fence and Ask Away, will target young voters in particular.

You can also read the related article by project organisers Kieran Stowers (@nzonthefence) and Meg Howie (@askawaynz) - see: Youth will have a say if you ask in their lingo. And youth also claim to want to vote online - see Heather Simpson's Tech generation wants online voting.

If you are looking for comparisons between the policies of the various parties in one place, see Interest.co.nz's Political party policies. To monitor social media, David Farrar offers a social media database with website, Facebook and Twitter details for MPs. The website, Tweet MPs collects tweets by MPs in one place with statistics on frequency and volume. And academic Geoffrey Miller is collating the commentators worth following in Twitter lists for New Zealand media and politics.

Finally, for an in depth and interesting discussion of how politicians are using social media, watch Torben Akel's 10-minute video from TV3's The Nation: Using Twitter as a political tool in NZ.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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