Twitter is…

…always discussed in the singular, apparently.

I refer to something I saw this morning over coffee. Being at Saturday, it would be inappropriate if there wasn’t at least one piece I read in The Age that gave me a good chuckle, and today it was this piece by Amanda Dunn, titled “Right on skew: news takes a tumble in the Twitter hole”. Terrible title notwithstanding (another vote for the subediting fraternity), this piece was representative of something I’ve seen increasingly often among members of the legacy/traditional/mainstream/whatever media: the ‘Twitter as unitary mass’ article.

UrghDunn opens up referring to a tweet from prolific, savvy and fiercely cynical political blogger Possum Comitatus that things got pretty dumb, pretty fast after the election announcement. Ignoring the fact that he was referring to the larger media response, Dunn dives right in and extrapolates that ‘Twitter’ was behaving stupidly, focusing on the nebulous and ephemeral elements of that news (footy finals, Yom Kippur, spectacles, etc.).

This, then, naturally led to a wider discussion about ‘Twitter’; that it’s a politically biased outrage engine/outrage vector. Oh, and of course, it’s “wonderful…for a journalist it’s a fantastic resource”.

And there it is. Even though Ms Dunn is on Twitter, and may well be a prolific user, she exhibits exactly the kind of ignorance of its purpose/use that SO many old media types seem to. She sees it not only as a singular mass, but as some kind of encyclopaedia of public attitudes, to be dipped into every time she needs to pad out a piece with a quote.

Much of this stems back to the abstract verb that headlines this post: “is”. Discussion of Twitter always seems to be about what Twitter “is”, even though it has millions of users in Australia and hundreds of millions of users globally. Any time you collect hundreds of millions (or even dozens) of people in one place, using the third person singular “is” is a mistake.

Twitter (and almost all social media for that matter) is not some unthinking mass consciousness. It is an enormous group of people who self-select into sub-communities based on shared interests. Kind of like the real world. There are crazy lefties on Twitter. Crazy tories on Twitter (#auspol). Bieber fanatics. Food bloggers. Fashion bloggers. “Mummy” bloggers (god bless ’em) and everything in between.

Sometimes they overlap and a Twitter user with a passion for poaching eggs will offer some trenchant political insight, and get re-tweeted around the political twittersphere, as the gargantuan Venn diagram that is Twitter will inevitably overlap. But mainly, she will likely tweet primarily about food with other food fans on Twitter.

And here’s another thing. Dunn, in writing this piece, isn’t looking at ‘Twitter’, she’s looking at the small subset of Twitter that she has carved out for herself. This outrage factory she sees fit to mock and follow simultaneously is the part of Twitter that best reflects her, a point that naturally goes un-raised in the piece.

And even if she somehow stumbled across some representative cross-section of the entire community in her feed, there is a larger point here. When people collectively get wound up about the latest stupid thing Kochie said, or whether they like the PM’s new glasses, or whether it’s ridiculous that everyone’s focusing on the PM’s new glasses, this is not some indictment of the medium. It’s the kind of conversation people have had, every day, since forever. Only now, they’ve found entire communities of like-minded people willing to share that conversation. And that can only be a good thing.

Perhaps the answer, to return to the headline, is to think about the verb. ‘Is’ is inappropriate. Twitter is full of people. One would not say ‘people is focused on the inane and the trivial’. Perhaps, discombobulating as it feels, we should be saying that ‘Twitter are crazy’. At least, reductive as that argument may be, it would convey the notion that the million-plus Australians on Twitter are not some unfettered hive-mind, bent on gossiping the country to early senility.

Side-bar: On a semi-related note, the piece Dunn wrote, readable as it was, was written in much the manner I wrote this (I would also like to think that I can be readable on the odd occasion). I wrote this, in about twenty minutes, after witnessing some media, having some feelpinions about said media, and then expressing those feels in a fairly stream of consciousness manner. I did this for nothing, and perhaps on one will read it. Ms Dunn probably got $1 a word. Perhaps this is another way in which traditional media is behind the eight ball.

UPDATE: So when I posted this, I also tweeted it, including a nod to @amandadunn10, the author of the piece in question. She didn’t respond or acknowledge. Again, speaking volumes about how she views Twitter as a medium.


The Knackery

So today’s ephemera are a bad joke told by the PM’s partner, a series of opportunistic photo ops from the Opposition Leader, Andrew Laming being Andrew Laming, and Twitter losing its collective shit over whether pubs have the right to ban kids from venues that strictly speaking are for over 18s. And of course it was Australia Day, so the national soul was subjected to its annual body cavity ordeal.

So, you know, late January.

More importantly, much of the news is, of course, focused on the Queensland floods, and the Courier Mail and ABC are naturally ideal places to look for that news.



Australia’s corruption watchdog is struggling to make ends meet, raising questions of corrupt raising of needed funds (SMH)

In an effort to stop retirees draining their savings too soon, there is a push to cap super lump-sum payouts (AFR)

A good summary of the…

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It’s already called ‘stalker search’

Everyone seems to be losing their shit over Facebook’s announcement of its social search function (which, incidentally, would be a much nicer name than ‘Graph Search’, seeing as there are no graphs involved).

Obligatory thumbs up image

Obligatory thumbs up image

The idea, simply enough, is that you will search Facebook instead of Google. Want to know what film to see? Search in Facebook for ‘people who like films I like film recommendations’ (or something) and you’ll get recommended films from friends (and friends’ friends, and their friends, as far as privacy settings allow) about what films to check out.

In principle, it’s a pretty nifty idea. It’s well targeted, it’s highly practical – in the sense that you will use it to search for things you will do in your life, rather than simply trying to find awesome Wikipedia pages – and in theory, it’s building off the recommendations of people whose interests (or social circles) you share.

(Sorry, by the way, about all the parentheses)

But I’m not sold. Not yet. The reason? The assumption that Facebook mirrors our lives and proclivities. And it doesn’t. Not yet.

I can’t say for certain how representative I am on this, and Facebook’s famed stinginess with information means that there is little to no data on it, but my Facebook page is really no great reflection of the person I am. It isn’t even my real name.

I ‘like’ very few things, and when I do, it’s not exactly an endorsement, but almost always liking a media publication or product that I see merit in having pop up in my feed. For instance, I’m an avid reader of Slate, so I ‘like’ Slate on Facebook, and they will fill my feed with links to articles I can then choose to read.

I also really enjoy The Napier in Fitzroy and my local bar, but until right now, I didn’t even know if either HAD a Facebook page. Because my Facebook page is no more useful to me by ‘liking’ them, I haven’t bothered, even though I ardently love both places. The same applies to film, music, food, you name it.

While I can’t speak for everyone, I’m fairly confident that most people don’t keep an accurate representation of themselves online. At the very least, we like to put our best foot forward publicly, so we may not, for instance, ‘like’ Jersey Shore, for fear of opprobrium. Some people are deeply private. Some people obsessively ‘like’ brand pages in order to score deals and discounts, even though they’re not exactly champions of Harvey Norman.

Even further down the rabbit hole – if you were to ask Facebook who my closest friends were, it would get the answer profoundly wrong. Most of my closest friends are not avid users of Facebook. It would know who I’m married to, but if it treated Facebook interactions as a measure of close friends, they’d be off the mark.

I interact on Facebook with friends who are more inclined to interact with people on Facebook. Sure, this keeps them closer to me than if they didn’t, but it doesn’t mean I care more about their opinions than some of my mates who may not even have Facebook accounts.

So, go ahead, Facebook, make social searching a thing. I think it’s a good idea, and it sure can’t hurt. But until Facebook becomes an accurate representation of how our lives work, let’s not get too carried away by the idea of a Google Killer.


There are many different angles one can come at the Jenny Macklin/Newstart/Adam Bandt/political stunt/$35-a-day/single mothers brouhaha that has fairly dominated a day and half’s worth of empty news cycles. So naturally I’m going to try all of them.

$35 a day for all! For those who are blessedly unaware, the story is vaguely thus: during late 2012, the government decided that, in its then-fetishistic pursuit of a surplus (a pursuit since abandoned, incidentally), it would save a cheeky $728 million over four years by moving about 100,000 single parents from their existing payment to the Newstart allowance. Of course, this received little to no coverage as it happened the day of the Prime Minister’s ‘misogyny speech’. Colour and movement and all that.

Then, on Tuesday, Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, was asked whether she felt if she could survive on $35 a day (presently she survives on about $900 a day). A question which, in my mind seems quite legitimate. Her answer:

“I could, and of course we understand that what’s important for people who are unemployed is that we do everything possible to help people get work.”

A bold claim, suggesting in a couple of words that a 96% pay cut was something fairly manageable. But obviously, such a claim would not go unchallenged. Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt – or perhaps his media adviser – smelled an opportunity, immediately challenging the Minister to join him in living on $35 a day for one week.

This set off the usual round of discussion on Twitter about, well, everything. Preston Towers felt that the original question in the presser was ridiculous. Liam Hogan saw it as the latest in a never-ending round of stunts, as did Megan Clement. All of Twitter started talking about what it’s like to live on $35 a day.

And they were right. It’s a stunt. A stunt performed, incidentally, by Greens senator Rachael Siewert last year – something she blogged about.

The Herald Sun got in the action with this 'one-egg family'I’ve never lived on $35 a day, at least not in any situation that compares even remotely to that of someone with dependents and everyday cost of living, but I know it’s sweet fuck all, an amount so pitiful as to actively inhibit the search for work, rather than support it. If the choice is public transport to job interviews for a month, or $200 for your kids dentist, I reckon the young ‘uns molars win every time. Everyone knows that this is a dud move by the government that will win nary a vote.

But what about the ‘stunt’? The act of challenging the Minister to go without for a week. It was met resoundingly with scorn across most media I consume, yet it’s hard to avoid the feeling that there is a chicken/egg blame game at work.

Most of the criticisms of Bandt’s challenge are around two things: its efficacy, and the slippery slope towards a dumber media environment that it embodies/encourages.

Anyone who feels that, if she takes this challenge up, Macklin would change her mind is, frankly, deluded. If you go for seven short days on not much money, it’s not too much of a hassle, particularly if you have this kind of motivation to manage it. There will be no emergency dental work, or a job interview to get to. She’ll make it, then give a press conference saying that she understands that it’s tough, and that’s why she’s so focused on helping people find work.

Bandt, likewise, will find it similarly easy to fail. I imagine that his daily rent in inner Melbourne probably exceeds $35, so there you go. Everyone continues to hold the position they held before.

But what this stunt has achieved is to get a great many people talking about the government’s policy shift, and in that sense, it’s worked tremendously well. So the stunt has been effective, yes. But also, it does embody the slide into ephemera and triviality that our media increasingly embraces. As David Paris said on Twitter:

The meedja ignored all of the inquiries, reports, experts. This seems to be all they pay attention to.

But whose fault is that? Adam Bandt, as far as I can tell, has close to zero responsibility for making the media grow up. His job is to bring issues that he is politically strong on to the front of the debate. Mission accomplished.

The media report on stunts, scandals, outrages and heartfelt underdog stories. And lists (oh, how they love a good list). If one of these can be harnessed to someone’s ends, go nuts.

And the media does it because we (you, me and everyone we know) read about stunts, scandals, outrages and heartfelt underdog stories. Unless you’re primed to get riled up about impoverished single parents, a headline like ‘100,000 single parents $100/week worse off: report’ isn’t about to get your pageview.

So, while my last post unambiguously lay the blame for bad reporting at the feet of the media for shoddy reporting of the AWU ‘scandal’ (there’s that word again), this time it’s back to the capitalist response. We get the media we deserve. Even more so now that they can see, in real time, what we click on. You want change? Read the worthy, if tiresome, articles quoting experts. Convince friends and family to do the same. It’s not Macklin’s fault. It’s not Bandt’s. It’s not even the journo who asked the question’s fault.

It’s ours.

Pointing the finger

I’ve been lax on my blogfoolery of late. Every time I felt like I had a spare moment to pen something, I found myself consumed by ennui, uninspired by most of what I saw, and that which I did would more easily be expressed in 140 characters than anything more considered.

But I have been roused. This morning, an ordinary, if stinking hot, Melbourne Thursday, I was watching News Breakfast on ABC24 as I prepared for work. They decided to cut to the pre-parliament doorstops to pad for time. First up, we were halfway through Tony Windsor, who, as always, had smart things to say about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The journalists were curious about some letter the PM had written. Windsor had nothing to say on that, instead asking if anyone had questions about the Plan. None did, so he left. Next up, waiting in the wings (quite literally) was Chris Pyne.

He had plenty to say.

I’m not going to get into the stuff he tossed around because, frankly, I haven’t paid much mind to it all, but if you want the details, Ben Eltham over at New Matilda has a good summary of all this Gillard rubbish.

Pyne finished his tear, then Adam Bandt stepped up to discuss the various reforms going up before parliament today. News Breakfast cut back to the “anchors” who then repeated Pyne’s claims.

This is why I’m riled up this morning.

Ordinarily I’m loathe to apportion blame when it comes to the carousel of bullshit that is national political discourse. Politicians have a social obligation to look after the national interest. The media have a social obligation to report honestly, and on issues that balance between the public interest and what the public is interested in. The public have an obligation, as good citizens, to pay attention to important issues of the day. The turd load is evenly distributed.

But in this case, it’s the media’s fault.

This is a non-story. Not even meritorious of ‘scandal’, ‘gate’ or even a consistent hashtag. A piece of ridiculous confection that the opposition have every reason to go to town on, given that they have an election to win, and creating the impression, however tenuous, of a corrupt government is great for them, and takes attention away from their “policies”.

The government are desperately alternating between trying to deny the issue oxygen, then having a crack at a controlled burn, in the hope that there will be no further flare-ups.

The public, meanwhile simply doesn’t care. It switched off long ago. The whole Slater & Gordon brouhaha was boring to begin with, unrelated to any issues of importance. Now, it so fiendishly convoluted that only the most tragic or partisan have any understanding of what is happening. I certainly can’t follow it anymore.

But the media simply won’t let it go. There are a million reasons for this, but I think there are two that are paramount:

  1. It’s way easier to report on. Policy is hard. It means that journalists, researchers and interviewers need to read detailed briefers, consult experts and generally get their heads around complicated issues that have real-world effects. Bollocks to that. Repeating “claims” and “allegations” is far more fun, and simply requires turning up at a Canberra doorstop before repeating the claim that the PM has ‘questions to answer’, without actually deciding what those questions are, and having had two discrete opportunities to put any and all questions to her. But that’s the minor reason. The big one?
  2. General Sherman. You may recall in the Simpsons the enormous, possibly mythical catfish that Homer sets off after in lieu of attending marriage counselling. That’s this story. Bringing down a sitting PM is the ultimate in journalistic achievement. For all the talk among partisans about bias in the media (which, of course there is, but it’s down to the individual journalist much of the time, and is usually suppressed by larger organisational biases), every journalist’s prejudice is trumped by getting a “yarn”. No matter how dyed-in-the-wool Labor, any journo would jump at the chance to be the one to break The Story of the Decade and unseat Gillard.

Rather than sit in a boat, fishing for a smoking gun that it is increasingly apparent doesn’t exist, our journalistic class would be better advised to do their jobs, sit down with Marge and explain the ins and outs of the numerous issues that should be on the front page. NDIS, Murray-Darling Plan, melting permafrost, the Kyoto negotiations in Doha, hunger strikes on Nauru, you name it.

In the end, the overall sensation for me in this sea of vacuity is one of sadness. Imagine, if you would, a world where this level of forensic research and doggedness was applied to issues of actual importance. Perhaps the public may have known how a carbon price actually works. Perhaps the public would understand the difference between the paid parental leave schemes of both major parties. Perhaps someone could explain to me how the NDIS works. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

So fuck you, media. I no longer want to see Christopher Pyne suggest there are questions to answer.

Everyone is wrong somehow

Goddamn it I’m kind of loathe to add to the sextrillion words already spilled vainly over That Speech last week, but I feel that there is one thing that remains unremarked upon.

I’m certainly not about to dive in to the debate over what is/isn’t sexism/misogyny, other than to say that as a man, I’m not positioned to judge how women should feel about things, and that it’s clear that Tony Abbott almost certainly is not a misogynist and almost certainly is a sexist.

The addendum to this debate, one that emerged rapidly on the heels of the speech itself, is whether or not the ‘press gallery’ was wrong to fixate on the fact that the PM was speaking in defence of Peter Slipper, whose text messages were certainly not a glowing endorsement of the fairer sex.

“WHY ARE YOU FOCUSSING ON SUCH IRRELEVANCE” came the cry from vocal corners of Twitter, which acts effectively these days as a channel for intelligent spokespeople of non-journalistic background to speak up against media intransigence. “We are here to provide context and we know best” came the journalistic retort.

Clearly the massively consistent reporting of Gillard’s speech as a ‘failure’ and ‘hypocrisy’ was faintly ridiculous, given that it was not how the speech was being received across the populace. 1.6 million views of the youtube clip in six days indicates that the gallery had its finger utterly removed from the national pulse. Getting bogged down in the minutiae showed that political journalists missed what is clearly a historical moment. My former TBL comrade Max/Hunter/Paul put it best when he said it was “our generation’s Redfern speech”.

By stressing the importance of Slipper, the media wound up (and will likely wind up) looking like fools, much like the Chicago Tribune, commenting in the wake of the Gettysburg Address:

“The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat and dishwattery [sic] remarks of the man who has to be pointed out as the President of the United States. … Is Mr. Lincoln less refined than a savage? … It was a perversion of history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot view it as otherwise than willful.”

Obviously, the lens of history makes them look like a proper arse, and no doubt in future several quotes will re-emerge, making them look even more foolish, removed as they will be from the immediacy of the parliamentary moment.


While I think the gallery wrote a bunch of junk, and should have realised that this was a moment that deserved attention, rather than trying to dictate to readers what the readers should think was important, there is a case for sympathy for them.

In almost every other case, the non-journalistic eloquence of that particular slice of Twitter is fierce in its prosecution of journalists who fail to provide detail and context, instead simply offering simplistic ‘analysis’ that confirms existing audience prejudice. That when Tony Abbott rails against the carbon price, reporters simply repeat the claims and the government’s counter-claims. And they’d be right. But still, when political writers DO look deeper, and offer context, it’s a little bit stupid to be suggesting that their reporting should be dictated purely by the angle that the audience finds most appealing.

Still, what a speech. If I have a daughter, I’m going to play it for her before she’s 12.

Everyone’s a debate expert

On Thursday morning, I was not glued to ABC24, watching the US presidential debate. While I share the fascination of US politics with many of my compatriots, there is something a little obscene about watching a debate between two people vying to become leader of another country. Still, I sat immobile, at the blood bank, and without a paper, was glued instead to my Twitter feed which, naturally enough, was full to the brim with commentary about the unfolding proceedings.

The general thrust, from observers here and abroad, was, to paraphrase, “Romney is handing it to Obama.” Great, fine, but why?

“Obama looks tired, listless, angry, irritated.”

“Romney is more upbeat, likable, his zingers are really landing”

“Looks presidential”

And so on.

Really? This is it? It is at this point, it feels like an actual explanation of the purpose of debates is in order. Debates exist so that undecided voters have an opportunity to see the candidates for whom they may vote offering their policies, ideas and personalities under the microscope of opposition from their fiercest rival.

There is no media intervention. There are no press advisers. The candidate can’t call the event short if things aren’t going well. It’s unvarnished, open and even. Voters can see for themselves who makes the better case for election.

Instead, we get assessment from the media about who ‘won’. And who ‘won’ rarely won on the basis of policy or substance. Ordinarily, this would be fine, but for two things.

First, it’s undoubtedly leached from American politics to here. As the post-mortems continue to tend towards the vacuous, as have the policy pronouncements of the candidates. This is terrible for everyone involved.

Second, and far more insidiously, the public have absorbed these lessons, and now also view the debates as a discussion about ‘who won’, rather than ‘I saw a policy position that I was unaware of and it has changed my thinking about the election’. In all of the media reports I saw about the US debate, interviews with Jane and John Q. Public involved them offering the same pat dissertations on who won and why.

“Obama looked listless,” “Romney really took it to him, was more assertive,” etc.

Ad bloody nauseum.

Assessing who won a debate as a means of determining who won a debate is ludicrous, bordering on the Kafkaesque. Oh, for one person to say something to the effect of “I felt that, irrespective of body language, I felt Romney was convincing that he’s not out to gut the middle class and hand money to the wealthy, so, yeah, he was good.” Just one. But because they don’t, there is need for the speakers to say anything of value.

When ordinary punters are viewing debates through the lens of the media to this extent, let’s just call the whole thing off, because it has officially become another campaign event, rather than a ‘debate’.