New Zealand's highest profile broadcaster, Mike Hosking, is routinely parodied on social media by the impersonator @PerfectMikeHosk. This humour reached a new level of cruelty and brilliance in the weekend with the Sunday Star Times publishing a column by the fake tweeter - see: Perfect Mike Hosking: 'If you don't love the Royal Family, you're a moron'.

It's not the first time the Twitter spoof has appeared in the Sunday papers - see his 2013 interview in the Herald on Sunday: Mr Hosking, meet your alter ego. And of course, Hosking is regularly parodied by Jeremy Wells on Radio Hauraki - you can listen to his latest "Hosking Rant" about Paul Henry - or listen to the whole "Like Mike" collection.

Such mocking satire might or might not offend the original Mike Hosking, but none of it can be accused of involving deception or intrigue. However there is other social media activity at the moment that might be accused of being "Dirty Digital Politics". The most interesting involves, once again, a spin doctor in John Key's office. Now that Jason Ede has gone - banished after his exposure in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics - there appears to be a "new Jason Ede" in the PM's office, who has responsibility for influencing digital politics. Gwynn Compton's role has come to light through his questionable activities on social media, especially Twitter.

For coverage of this see Hamish Rutherford's John Key's social media adviser faces Twitter threat claims. It transpires that Compton helps run the National Party's various Twitter and Facebook accounts. The controversy was sparked by what appeared to be a threat made on Twitter by the spin doctor against a high profile, but anonymous, critic of the Government - the Tweeter @JohnKeyMustGo. He has now posted a full account of his interesting story - see: The Cat and his Hats.

In the context of what the public now knows from Dirty Politics about "black ops" and other Government attempts to neutralise political opponents, any critic might rightly be fearful of such threats from John Key's staff. This is especially so, given that staff in the Prime Minister's office were caught using the resources of the security intelligence agencies against their critics.

The latest mini-scandal involving Key's spin doctor isn't just about Twitter threats or deception, but also the discovery that the staff member is helping run what now appears to be somewhat of a front group for the National Government in the flag change debate - see Claire Trevett's John Key's social media advisor involved in flag campaign.

The involvement of taxpayer-funded staff reflects poorly on the ethics of the flag change campaign, but more importantly raises further questions about the degrees of manipulation and deception still being practiced by National Government staffers. Blogger No Right Turn has commented that "While Ede has officially quit, it looks like Key found a replacement. And he's up to the same dirty tricks and online bullying as his predecessor" - see: More dirty politics. Furthermore, he says, "Threatening the Prime Minister's critics, running 'grassroots' campaigns right out of the PM's office - looks like National is still in the business of dirty politics".

Even Cameron Slater has chimed in, suggesting that Key's new social media spin doctor isn't as good as the original Dirty Politics operator - see: John Key must really be missing Jason Ede by now.

But is this all an example of social media outrage that is out of proportion to the alleged crime? That's the argument Pete George makes in his post, Tiso versus Compton - insidious dirt.

And of course, it's not just National MPs using their spin doctors online - all parties use their taxpayer-funded staff for online advantage. For example, back in January, when Labour MPs were advertising for a new chief spin doctor, the advertisement made it clear that the person employed by Parliamentary Service (ie paid by taxpayers) would be carrying out digital politics electioneering as part of their job - see Vernon Small's Andrew Little seeking positive coverage.

The Reemergence of other Dirty Politics characters

The latest North and South magazine has a feature story on one of the other major characters exposed in Hager's Dirty Politics. Carrick Graham was the PR practictioner who was exposed as a key player helping Cameron Slater, as well as seeking to aggressively undermine various public health researchers. Now Peter Newport provides an update on what the 'master of the dark arts' is now up to.

A good summary of this must-read article about Carrick Graham, is provided in the introduction: "He was the probably the darkest character in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics. A man who was paid to attack anyone who stood up to his wealthy international sugar, tobacco and alcohol clients. A shadowy figure who fought behind the anonymity of social media and wrote some of the more toxic posts on his friend Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog site. And yet, Carrick Graham isn't about to become a reformed man. He's not retreating from anything he's done. In fact, he's proudly announcing things are about to get a whole lot dirtier in the future - not for any reason other than this bloody battlefield is, in his view, the new reality of commerce, news and politics in New Zealand".

In the article, Graham is reluctant to provide any confirmation of details published in Dirty Politics, but he does say this about Cameron Slater: "He sends me invoices for social media consultations".

For a summary and analysis of the article, see Peter Griffin's blog post, Carrick Graham still gunning for public health researchers.

Cathy Odgers has also reappeared this week with Giovanni Tiso highlighting her apparent attempts to expunge her blog site from the internet - see: The purloined blog.

According to Tiso, Odgers has not only deleted her own blog, but attempted to remove it from the repositories of the National Library, which has a legislated role in keeping records of all New Zealand blogs published. For more on this, see Greg Presland's The unusual case of the disappearing blog.

Digital dangers of politicians online

Another rightwing politician with an embarrassing social media history, Todd Barclay, has explained to Aimee Gulliver how he is being more careful with digital politics now - see: National's youngest MP steering clear of social media.

Yet the interview shows that even staying offline doesn't necessarily prevent politicians having their daft thoughts publicised. In this case he laments the "personal sacrifices" of being an MP: "if you've got a mate that's having a flatwarming or something like that and you've got something else on then you can't just say you want to go to the party". He also explains the problems of living with his parents - they won't let him stay up late.

Politicians are also currently grappling with the rules for their social media participation in relation to their real-world participation in Parliament's debating chamber. The question is whether there should be special rules for what they can and can't say on Twitter with regard to the debates - see Audrey Young's Trevor Mallard's tweet sees no need for inquiry.

A useful and insightful argument about the issue is also put forward by the blogger No Right Turn - see: Submission.

Generally politicians have become rather bland online. This was conveyed well in Claire Trevett's attempt, earlier in the year, to answer the question: Who is the new Minister of Twitter? The MPs who rule on social media. The selection of "top tweeters" was evaluated on The Standard, with some Green MPs suggested instead - see: Top MP tweeters?. See also, Jason Walls' Social media changing the world - and New Zealand politics.

Even local government politicians are prone to Twitter controversies and infamy. Auckland councilor Dick Quax took to Twitter earlier this year to say: "no one in the entire Western world uses the train for their shopping trips" and "the very idea that people lug home their supermarket shopping on the train is fanciful" - see Isaac Davison's Auckland councillor Dick Quax gets tweeters all a-twitter.

Since then the term "quaxing" - which means shopping by use of public transport or cycle - has taken off, and has been "appropriated by groups as far away as England and Germany" - see Kirsty Johnston's 'Quaxing' becomes byword in verbal battle over bike.

Twitter's tyranny of intolerance and distortion

Perhaps the biggest political problem with social media - and Twitter, in particular - is that it encourages both bizarre feuds and a lack of perspective. This has famously led many to commit "twittercide", but often Twitter-deleters come back for more.

For example, one of the most interesting political commentators on Twitter, Danyl Mclauchlan @danylm, wrote at the beginning of the year that he was giving up on social media: "somewhere along the way twitter became completely awful, and not constantly exposing myself to - and participating in - this endless cacophony of advertising soaked shrill, mean-spirited outrage is a wonderful experience. I encourage other compulsive twitter users to try it" - see: 2015. Thanksfully, he's now back, and tweeting vigorously.

Part of the problem with Twitter is the "pile-ons", "subtweets", and "calling out" culture. This is all explained by Carrie Stoddart-Smith, along with her observations of "hostility on the rise", in her blog post, Twitter. It can be rough.

Another big problem with Twitter is that it can give a distorted account of politics. We saw this last year during the election campaign when the near fever-pitch level of outrage expressed on Twitter about scandals was totally out of sync with voters, who largely remained unmoved. The apparent left and liberal leaning bias of Twitter, along with its insider nature of a mix of journalists, candidates and staffers interacting with each other can make it easy to become detached from perspectives in the real world.

This is a point made strongly in Guyon Espiner's excellent 28-minute discussion with Bill Ralston, Gavin Ellis, and Tim Watkin about the Changing Media Landscape, broadcast in January. For a summary of the discussion, see Radio New Zealand's The changing media scene. The general point is that social media is becoming more important, but mainly to a "media clique", and it has the capacity to mislead due to the amount of outrage expressed.

This has also been one of the major lessons of last week's surprise British election result. For example, in the Guardian, Suzanne Moore wrote "One of the biggest shocks of this election is the realisation that you can't get a socialist paradise on Earth by tweeting. Or even by putting up really angry statuses on Facebook" - see: We thought we could tweet our way to a socialist paradise. The election changed that (). She concludes, "The revolution will not be hashtagged".

Similarly, the contrarian Mike Hume declares: "The online elitists might do better to reflect on how the election confirmed another gap - between their imaginary world on Twitter and other social media, where the likes of Labour and the Greens always win, and the real world where most voters live" - see: Did the Tories really win?.

Meanwhile, others have been voicing doom and gloom for social media - see Damian Thompson's Daily Mail article, Is the infantile obsession with Twitter coming to an end?.

Finally, for the best introduction to Twitter, as well as its strengths and weaknesses - especially the propensity towards "ridiculous and public feuds" - see Philip Matthews' feature from earlier this year: What is Twitter all about?. The balance between good and bad is nicely summed up with this observation: "Sometimes Twitter is about speaking truth to power in the classic journalistic sense. Sometimes it is more like speaking nonsense to thousands".