Rob Oakeshott & Julie Posetti – media140 Oz Politics. Photo Credit: Neerav Bhatt
Grogs Gamut one of the media140 Canberra blogging team gives examples of the mainstream media using twitter to generate stories and how this is not always in the interest of good policy or the discussion of complex ideas.
At the media140 conference in Canberra today, Independent MP Rob Oakeshott talked of how when he was delivering his 17 minutes speech explaining why he was going to support the ALP the last thing on his mind was that the length of his speech would become the most important part.
While he delivered his announcement he said he was unaware that “twitter was killing him while I was speaking”. He also noted that as a result of this, the contact of his speech was virtually ignored.
His comments and those also by Senator Kate Lundy on the impact of her tweet during the ALP leadership spill demonstrates that social media reaction can become the story, because the instant feedback it provides.
At a conference about social media, what is most striking is that almost every speaker is at pains to make it clear that twitter and the “new media” is not about to replace the regular media – that it does not generate momentum in a campaign without there first being some substance of policy.
While the speakers are correct to assert that twitter will never overcome the fact that “nothing comes of nothing” when it comes to policy – and that you will never generate grassroots support online if there is not that support offline as well; the media does seem more willing to use twitter to generate stories.
One of the great features of twitter is the instant feedback on everything – someone is singing on a talent show and instantly twitter will give its view. Heck twitter is able to give views on the taste of a dish on masterchef without even bothering to taste it (yep, it is a new paradigm).
And while this excellent as a source of vox pops, what it can also mean is that the tone of a story can be quickly framed and become the narrative that proliferates across all media platforms.
During Rob Oakeshott’s 17 minute address to announce his decision, twitter was rife with snark about his length. This very quickly became the response in all media platforms. Now perhaps journalists would have taken that line, but twitter gave them an instant feedback to alert them that there were others thinking that way.
Interestingly on that day, I was not watching the press conference online, but on TV with a bunch of other people who were highly interested to know what he was going to say, because it would affect their work.
No one was yelling “hurry up”. There were a couple groans, but by and large people were there on tenterhooks.
Twitter doesn’t do quiet groans well. As the US Ambassador, Jeffrey Bleich noted in his keynote address, in real life you can whisper and then deny what you said, but online it is all there – unable to be denied.
The same goes for nuance. When three people in a room of thirty groan it doesn’t get noted, but if all three people in every room go online and tweet that groan, it does get noticed.
And the big difference between real life asides and groans, and comments on twitter is that twitter often lacks subtlety. Twitter is the medium of snark – a world of people all trying to be the funny kid up the back of the class. A tweet is rarely “I wish Oakeshott would hurry up”, instead you will see “Oh FFS get on with it!”, or “By the time Oakeshott ends it’ll be time for another election”.
The funniest tweets will get RT’d, especially if it is tweeted by a professional journalist.
And thus a narrative is born. Back in 1960 it was JFK winning the debate on TV, but losing it on radio. Perhaps what we have now is someone winning on TV, but losing on Twitter.
This is not to criticise journalists for taking note of twitter – it is to show that twitter actually does have a power that goes well beyond the traditional “the station was inundated with phone calls” feedback of the past.
Where it can become a problem is when the feedback of an event becomes greater than what was said at the event.
Rob Oakeshott lamented this in his talk saying, “What I said in the 17 minutes has not received the air time it deserved”.
Whether or not “deserving” is the correct term is debatable, but there certainly was criticism among the twitterati that finally we had a politician not talking in sound bites, and yet he was criticised for doing so – thus the media has no right to complain when they are fed sound bites.
But the instant Twitter criticism can also be on policy – one stark example is Julia Gillard’s speech on her climate change policy. The policy was effectively dead before she sat down due t the mass of criticism on twitter.
So was the reporting of Oakeshott’s speech a case of journalists responding to what was happening on twitter, or would they have written that anyway? My guess it is a bit of both. There has always been feedback and focus groups and ratings and letters to the editor, what is different about twitter is that instant response.
It is the 24/7 news cycle on steroids. What politicians and the media need to watch is that they don’t get caught up in the cycle of instant feedback – where 24/7 becomes 1440/24 – where every minute requires a new story, a new response, a new instant reaction.
Rob Oakeshott talk 17 minutes to talk about who he thought should govern the nation. He will never make a more important speech. If Twitter is assisting in making such length a negative then we should not wear rose coloured glasses and think the “new media” is always a positive influence.