Trolls, John Howard and the Over-Manipulation of Reality

I wanted to write about this for ages but packing my stuff, filling out fascist custom forms and trying to read every book I can get a hold on before I leave Australia next week kept me quite busy.The article Espen points out, It's not the blogs I hate, it's their fans, reminded me of a piece I read on the Age website the other day: Cyberspace: It's the new toilet wall. What both pieces eventually come down to is the issue of trolling: a problem that persists since my German forefathers used their steam powered internets to order the weekly sausage supply. A claim isn't necessarily false if it get's repeated on a regular basis for decades and indeed trolling is a problem – without mutual respect there's no debate – but what makes the Age's piece interesting is linking the seedy orcus of the net with John Howard's Youtube speech on global warming. As Andrew Campbell, a psychologist at the University of Sydney points out in the Age piece:

"Whoever advised the Prime Minister to do it was probably ill-informed on the sort of responses he'd get. I don't think … whoever put that video together realised that forum is extraordinarily public and uncensored.. I think politically it was a huge mistake. Especially at this stage, in the lead-up to an election, this is not the medium you use for the first time without knowing the consequences and the demographic."

On the one hand John Howard's image is quite a conservative one, so maybe his advisors thought that by using the technology of the day he could appeal to a younger demographic who just knew him as the dude with the eyebrows. Fair enough. But then again: John Howard rightfully earned the image of a conservative, especially when it comes to the cause of advancing technology. It was his government after all that didn't do anything about the catastrophic broadband conditions. Also the troubles the Liberals had in utilizing Myspace are representative for the incoherent handling of these platforms (e.g. the Youtube video didn't appear on Howard's Myspace profile). All this would probably have worked better if Howard showed his affection for new forms of communications (new for him anyways) by starting his own blog. Through careful moderation he could have set the standards for conversations; it would have offered him a platform in which he could have embedded his Youtube videos which then could have been debated in a calmer tone. Or his campaigners could at least have employed some supporters to counter the nasty attacks (albeit in a subtle manner; letting people sign up a day before his video appeared without having posted a video or at least some comments elsewhere would probably have caused too much suspicion) – although another, bigger problem might lie in here. As “the doctor of spin” Steve Stockwell points out in his book “Political Campaign Strategy” the Liberal's spin over the years caused a over-manipulation of reality that comes with it's costs. For a while the government was no longer comfortable talking to its constituents who were all spun out: "This is the danger of too much spin. There comes a time when it is too easy for your opponents to put out the spin that all your pronouncements are spin. There will never be a return to a time without spin because because politics is always about spin, but as the public become more media savvy the observation of spin and criticism, not only of its techniques but also its contents will become a media staple as journalists and citizens learn to create democracy from within the information flow” It seems that the media-savvy demographic “spins” back, respectively expresses its anger over the spin it had to endure over the years – in a crass language that was born out of a medium with a short attention span.