After a long and largely monotonous election campaign, May 21 brought a bit of excitement. Major parties are on the out, insurgent inner-city independents and the Greens are in. Regardless of your political persuasion, everyone can acknowledge that the overturning of the political status quo is great for content. Thank you, voters!
My job during the election was to keep an eye on the online campaign. What I saw largely mirrored what happened in the meatspace. Both of the major parties ran safe, uninspiring digital campaigns for the 2022 federal election. The most interesting stuff happened around the edges.
Here’s what felt familiar. Both major parties used Meta (Facebook and Instagram) and Google (Search and YouTube) advertising like they had in the past, with Labor outspending the Coalition by a decent amount. They more or less matched each other on Facebook and Instagram organic posting, having mastered the art of the boomer meme and the campaign dog selfie. They blasted out a lot of fundraising emails to their mailing lists. Much of their digital efforts appeared to come straight from campaign HQ.
Some of the variables that threatened to throw a spanner in the works don’t appear to have amounted to that much. Clive Palmer’s huge election cash splash appears to have probably all been for naught. While the Labor Party was a little better than the Liberals, it was punters who dominated TikTok with their election content, not the political parties. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and George Christensen had some of the most widely shared posts on Facebook, but they didn’t translate into votes.
It’s also worth pointing out the absence of a few things. Unlike the Mediscare and “death tax” frights over the past two elections, it doesn’t seem like there were many effective scare campaigns this election (not for lack of trying, I’m looking at you pandemic treaty and asylum seeker boat text messages). I haven’t seen anything suggesting there were any significant “dark” campaigning efforts that slipped under the radar. Paid influencers with election messages were few and far between.
The breakout story of the election was how the teal indies and Greens wrestled away inner-city seats from the two majors, and their use of social media was key. It’s cliche, subjective and kinda lame to say that their use of Facebook, Instagram and, in particular, Twitter felt “authentic”, but that’s how it felt. An example of how these smaller, integrated campaigns were able to outmanoeuvre the bigger campaigns was the feedback loop between the independents’ social media use and their ground game. I saw people like Monique Ryan and Zoe Daniel use social media to get volunteers, and then use their turnout to show everyone online that they were real contenders.
With some results still being counted, it’s still too early to draw many conclusions. One thing that is clear, however, is that this election proved again that digital campaigns should be less concerned with how many people they’re reaching and more focused on who they’re reaching and with what message. An incumbent Craig Kelly, with hundreds of thousands of followers across Telegram and Twitter, and backed by a billionaire mining magnate bankrolling YouTube ads across the country, managed to win just 7.4% of the vote in the seat of Hughes (down from 53.2% in 2019).
The people who won big this election were those who listened to the electorate and figured out how to reach relevant voters with the right message. It wasn’t some newfound technological advance that made this possible, but a savvy use of the tools at hand — both digital and analogue — to make their case.
‘Appalling disregard’: Australia’s offshore processing slammed after leaked emails show Nauru police mocking suicide, self-harm threats
I’m surprised how little attention a leak of Nauru Police Force’s emails has gotten from Australian media. Here’s me covering how it shows police mocking self-harming asylum seekers who are being detained trying to come to Australia. (Crikey)
WeChat posts spread misinformation saying Labor plans ‘to turn children gay’ and ‘destroy Chinese wealth’
One thing that’s outside my wheelhouse but I’m always interested in is what’s happening on WeChat, the Chinese social media app, during elections. (Guardian Australia)
A fugitive Chinese billionaire claims this cryptocurrency will overthrow Beijing. Experts say it has the ‘hallmarks of a scam’
This story really has it all: cryptocurrency, Steve Bannon, fugitive Chinese businessmen, rap videos. (ABC)
What a ‘domestic operation’ on Facebook reveals about Australia’s misinformation debate
Interesting wrap about how Australia’s misinformation regulation is working (or not really) in practice (Nine)
Australian Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer on grifts, Elon Musk, crypto bubbles and Pauline Hanson
I had a very thoughtful conversation with the Australian co-creator of Dogecoin, which made Elon Musk mad. (Crikey)