Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced recently that his government would be entering caretaker mode and that he would be seeking reelection on September 7th. Such a move is fairly standard in a democracy and happens in Australia every three years. However this year Rudd chose to do something different…he announced the election on photo-sharing site Instagram.
The Australian Prime Minister has largely embraced social media as a method of connecting and engaging with the people (remember….social media is all about engagement). He is the most popular Australian politician on Twitter and has often used Instagram and YouTube to talk about policies and take photos of himself campaigning. He makes sure to differentiate between when he tweets and when his team tweets (adding a KRudd signature every time it’s him) which allows him to maintain a degree of transparency (once again, also crucial in social media).
Social media is playing an increasingly prominent role in politics. It is used by politicians to get their message across, to slam their opponents, to toast their victories and to offer commiserations over their defeats. Barack Obama’s tweet announcing that he had won reelection was the most retweeted tweet in history
It’s easy to see the impact that social media has when everything goes smoothly….but what if it doesn’t? Countless numbers of politicians or celebrity figures have been embarrassed when their more private moments come out accidentally through social media. Sometimes they can tweet without thinking and sometimes they can actually tweet a picture that they didn’t mean to. But all of this pales in comparison to the truly destructive nature that social media has played to Congressman (and now NYC Mayoral Candidate) Anthony Weiner.
The Congressman made headlines throughout the world when a picture of his penis, thankfully encased in boxers, was accidentally tweeted from his account. Weiner denied the allegation and said that his account had simply been hacked. It was a wholly believable story. The man had a hilarious name and was gaining national prominence for championing liberal causes. Seeing as there were no identifying marks in the photo many people simply assumed that it was a prank by one of the Congressman’s political enemies or a childish joke. Weiner even spent $45,000 of public funds attempting to track down the person who had invaded his account and posted the lewd picture.
After several days the Congressman admitted that he had sent the photograph and that whilst he had meant to send it as a Direct Message (private communication between two Twitter users) it had accidentally been sent as a public tweet. Weiner’s fall from grace was rapid and he resigned his position. After two years he announced that he would be running for NYC Mayor and was tipped to win until another woman came forward and announced that she and Weiner had had inappropriate contact for a number of weeks despite Weiner’s claims that he had ceased any sort of sexting.
So what can we learn from all of this? Well it is quite obvious that social media has become an essential platform of any modern political campaign. The ease of use, ability to engage and chat with your constituents and the fact that the platform allows you to spread your message for little or no costs to the campaign, freeing up necessary funds for the more traditional forms of marketing, means that it is simply unwise for a modern politician to ignore social. That being said you must be very, very careful about how you use social networks. On the Internet…everything lasts forever…and your political career won’t.