John Howard

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.

Subject: Greetings from New Zealand

From: Jens SchroederSubject: Greetings from New Zealand To: Espen, Parker

Hi guys,greetings from New Zealand. I'm having an awesome time here – despite freezing my a** off. Coming from Germany I should actually be able to withstand minus five degrees but I guess living in tropical conditions for the last two years kind of affected my ability to adapt to cold weather. Also: when I moved to Australia I never thought that I was going to be confronted with anything resembling ice or snow, accordingly I only possess light clothing and three token sweaters. My answer to that problem lay in the “onion principle” aka layering – when I went jet-boating in Queenstown I was wearing two t-shirts, two sweaters and two jackets. I found a bit hard to breathe, but I'd choose health over dignity any time.

Today I arrived in Christchurch again after a wonderful trip through the breathtaking scenery of the South Island: Snow covered mountains, rainforests, fjords, glaciers, all of almost incomprehensible beauty. Check the photos on Facebook: Pt1 & Pt2!

Since I didn't want to carry it around all the time and was moving a lot I didn't want to take my laptop with me. So after a long day of sightseeing instead of seeking entertainment and news from the internets I, rather extensively, watched TV. Something which I haven't done for ages. The result: I feel about 20% more stupid than before. I feel like a victim of CNN's agenda setting, since I have to passively absorb their programs without being able to countercheck their reports or consult a variety of opinions with the help of the extensive resources the internet has to offer. In short: I just don't feel empowered.I retain some empowerment respectively the ability to avoid Nicole Ritchie related news through my iPod. I loaded some documentaries on there before I left, one of them being “God's Next Army”, which deals with the Patrick Henry College, the supposed Harvard for the Christian Right. Watching this made me think that one of the reasons American conservatives have issues utilizing blogs for the purposes is the influence of these people – the main problem being that the bible is taken literally by Evangelical powers as if enlightenment never happened: basically not much of a difference to Islamic dogmatism with strong undertones of theocratic fascism. Now, the underlying principle of blogs is (ideally!) the concept of exchange and negotiation in a public sphere, a spirit of debate that leads to better outcomes, Espen's thesis being a case in point. However, if you're on a divine mission and take a dogmatic stand that doesn't allow for any negotiation and use debates to impress your view on your opponents instead of reaching for a greater good, this principle gets disrupted (yeah, yeah, I know... sounds pretty idealistic and unworldly, but I think you get the point. And since not all Republicans are adherents of this kind of Christianity but good old conservatives there are probably other issues, such as demographics, that complicate the adaptation to new technology).

Well, it seems that American conservatives aren't the only ones having trouble utilizing new ways of reaching the electorate. Even though John Howard released a speech on global warming on Youtube, the Liberal's Myspace presence still seems to have some issues – the main reason being John Howard refusing to create his own profile page because he doesn't want to lend his identity to a commercial organisation (which is, quite frankly, pretty ironic since the privatization of public services his party supported he lend much of Australia's identity to commercial organisations). Writes The Age:

Mr Howard's office today added a video on climate change to YouTube, but at the time of writing it had not been added to the party's MySpace page."They [the Liberal party] are not using their profile as effectively as they should be," said MySpace spokesman Darain Faraz."If you go on their profile it still says they've got 8 friends, and we know that they've had a lot more requests than that. It would be great if they started using it in the same way that other political parties have."The office of the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, has been busily adding friends to Mr Rudd's profile since Thursday. It listed 6058 friends as of this morning.The leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, has also embraced Impact, and his profile lists 182 friends.Labor politicians outnumber Liberals by more than two-to-one on Impact.The Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, are the only Liberal profiles being regularly updated with approved friends and comments.   

Espen, maybe you should come back to Australia and become a consultant for the Liberal's internet matters. Anyways, I gotta go, I already spend ages in this internet café. At least all this typing kept my fingers warm.

Talk to you soon! Jens