By Evan Reid, Student no#215308274, Email: Evanr@deakin.edu.au
During the recent UK elections, the winning conservative party spent AU$4.93 million with Australian Lynton Crosby’s company CTF Partners. In a sign of the increasing influence of social media they also spent AU$2.47 Million on Facebook advertising.
The two major political parties in Australia over the past decade have spent nearly $2 Billion on advertising. For the recent “Health Star ratings” program the government spent $700,000 on research and creative design, and $300,000 on actual ad placement.
In national politics good market research for policy needs to take into account every member of society, and gauge the opinions of the country as a whole. Increasingly online market research is becoming more popular, however it does come with some issues that politicians need to be wary of.
Recently I downloaded Australian question and answer social media app “Ponder” and was surprised to find among the very small user base Jacqui Lambie as a user asking policy questions.
Politicians need to be extremely careful using social media looking for feedback on policy creation, or judging public opinion of issues. To use a question asked by Ms Lambie (see beside) “Would you like to see a plebiscite vote on Indigenous recognition, same sex marriage, and an Australian republic at the next election?” with the only possible answers “Yes” or “No” respondents are not actually sure if they are answering a question about; indigenous recognition, same sex marriage, a republic, or all of the above. Respondents may also internally weight the issues, causing them to respond with a “Yes” if one issue is important to them, even though they actually believe “No” for another less weighted issue. Questions need to be simple, clear and direct. The sample size is also an issue, with a total of 71 respondents, this is not really a large enough data set to draw any conclusions about the population of Australia. These research methods are only representations of small pockets of society, and need to be taken into context. For example if the Liberal party takes a poll on their Facebook page of free market economy issues, the results are bound to be skewed in the favor of the party’s stance, as the bulk of respondents will be people who already follow the party online. Online polls are also open to manipulation by creation of multiple accounts by the same entity to skew poll results or blast propaganda to drown out the enemy. These simple polls can quickly become a game of which side can muster the most amount of votes by any means necessary as opposed to a genuine representation of general public opinion. They also risk weighting the opinions of the tech savvy while leaving out other segments of society, who may already be marginalized. I presume Ms Lambie does not have the financial capacity to employ CTF partners, but perhaps she should think more wisely when conducting basic market research.
The idea of internet users directly voting on policies via a proxy senator has already been tried by the “Online Direct Democracy Party”, but has not had much mainstream success. Social media has opened the door for a more engaging form of politics. Anyone with a political idea and a social media account can reach a high number of followers, which has proven to be both impressive with the rise in social justice and anti-corruption, and dangerous with movements like ISIS and racist nationalist groups using social media for recruiting and the spreading of ideas. A great deal of care needs to be taken when making decisions based on answers taken from potentially bias population samples on social media.