Politics, privilege, and social media

There is no escaping it, Australia is fast approaching federal election season. Heralded by an upswing of politicians seeking to make their voices heard among the white noise of political chatter, and the flooding of residential mailboxes with expensive printed political letters. Beyond the press conferences, television adverts, and traditional print media which will slowly but surely increase in coming months, it is social media which many will be watching carefully, when deciding which way to vote – as it has become an increasingly recognised platform for politicians to impact voters. Whether their aims are to increase interest in certain agendas, scare voters away from the opposition, appear genuine and relatable, or to garner measurable support for their parties, social media and online advertising have become a critical tool for political parties and individual candidates.

As a nation which participates in global politics and activism, there is no ignoring how active some global leaders have become on social media. President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a prolific, unfiltered tweeter, revealing much about his beliefs, aims, and what he disdains. Neutrality is not a position which he even pretends to take.

Within Australia, politicians are following suit in joining and curating their social media profiles. Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars are now spent creating social media videos, curating profiles and posts, gathering data and targeting online advertising to intended audiences. While it may be frustrating for voters to find that they will not be able to escape political marketing within social media newsfeeds, it is worth considering that within this increased political activism and involvement online, there lay opportunity for voters, to understand candidates in ways which previous generations have not had. This opportunity centres around voters being able to understand and know their candidates on a more personal level, and in the era of conscious votes, this is of significant importance.

Politics and privilege go hand in hand, and while there is increasing recognition and acceptance of diversity within Australian society, our political parties do not yet reflect this diversity adequately. As awareness of white privilege grows, it must too be understood that white privilege, is perpetuated through white supremacy, as it cannot exist outside of the system which upholds and continues it. White supremacy relate to structures and systems, which themselves are not physical buildings, but rather a collection of people, policies, and agendas, and for this reason we need to consider that as we understand privilege, we need to also understand the individuals who we collectively elect to control and further the structures which impact our lives. Through social media and online activism, politicians are becoming increasingly revealed as individuals. The significance of social media in garnering votes places politicians in a position where to be ‘relevant’ they need to increasingly be engaged and active online. This is vastly different to traditional campaigning which relies on formal publications, appearances, media reports, and press releases, in that it requires more of the personal, and less of the official and impersonal. We have increasing opportunity as voters to better understand our political representatives, their lenses, priorities, and how they live their lives, and politicians are increasingly expected to respond in the moment.

This recent post on Twitter, originally posted by Chloe Shorten, and shared with brief addition by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, is a great example of how a tweet may be curated, but still reveals insights in to the life and lifestyle of the poster. Labor openly claim to represent ‘working class’ Australia, and this tweet connects two Australian classics which many working class families would surely be familiar – rissoles (yum), and a quote from ‘The Castle’. However, it is less likely that many working class families would equally relate to casual family dinner being served with expensive linen napkins and damask table cloth, crystal ware, soup entrée, use of charger mat, silver serving ware and candles (and are they Hans Wagner chairs?) which are all also visible in the post. As leader of the opposition, and partnered with a successful woman who recently authored a book, I am not applying judgement to their having wealth, or their choice of home decor, but rather using this is an example of how social media posts may unintentionally reveal elements of politicians lives beyond their stated aims.

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In examining and commenting on the lenses and privilege of politicians, it is important that as voters we acknowledge and understand our own personal lens, and level of privilege, capital, beliefs and ideals which impact what we seek to see represented within government policy and agenda. As an Indigenous woman, from a diverse family, who is also a mother, researcher, educator, and someone who is deeply interested in the ways in which the structures of Australian politics, education, health, and societal values perpetuate white supremacy and impact upon Indigenous lives, an individual politician’s level of privilege itself is not the primary concern to me, but rather their understanding of privilege, and ability to see beyond their own lens to broader Australian experiences. For me, this is not only about Indigenous people, it is about all Australians, as our nation is incredibly diverse, and there have been significant changes in the economy, the housing market, employment, technology, global politics, and in what people now need to ‘succeed’ as individuals and as communities.

A politician who is unable to examine their own lens, privilege, and experiences, is one who is deeply limited in their ability to represent diverse generations of Australians, or contribute in an educated and considered way to conversations around key agendas and policies. By observing politicians on social media, seeing where they spend their time, how they curate their posts, and what they prioritise, we begin to get a glimpse of the lens from which they will make decisions, should they be elected as a representative within Australian politics.

As discussion and debate heats up about the upcoming budget, and priorities to be set by the various political parties, many individuals, families, and business owners will be eager to hear how they will personally be impacted. One topic which is already emerging centres around proposals to increase the rate of Newstart, which is the financial support paid to Australian people experiencing unemployment. When Julia Banks MP, Federal Member for Chisholm, and member of the Coalition, was asked about this proposal earlier this week, she casually but confidently commented that she could live on the current allowance of $40 a day. There was a reaction within traditional media, online media, and social media where doubt to this claim was consistently expressed. Mrs Banks holds two university degrees, owns 6 homes, and receives a salary of $200k p/a, yet gave no insight into how she could so confidently assert that she could live on $40 a day. In failing to provide context for such confidence, Mrs Banks reveals no understanding of the complex and often intersectional experiences of disadvantage which are so often the context in which people receiving Newstart exist. Her response then centres the debate on raising the allowance as being a matter of individual effort, and dismisses the housing crisis Australia is currently experiencing, and recent reports which revealed that in ALL of Australia there are presently only 3 rentals which are deemed ‘affordable’ when on the Newstart income. Such confidence also dismisses the cost of childcare, transport, communication, health complications, training and education, clothing, and groceries, as well as the issue of under employment – all of which compound and negatively impact an individual’s ability to gain employment. The public backlash remained unaddressed on social media by Mrs Banks, which in itself communicates a lot.

While we are becoming increasingly aware as a society on the ways in which privilege, and race capital impacts our opportunities and experiences, there needs to also be consideration given to the fact that white privilege only persists because of the systems and structures which uphold and perpetuate it. If change is to be achieved on a broader scale, then consideration should be given not only to the formal agendas outlined by the political parties as we approach the election, but also to the individuals who will then be tasked with implementing the changes and policies which they have promised. As voters we are consumers, tax payers, and power holders, and it’s time to critically examine the ability and skill set of the people who we fund to be our representatives.

 

Amy x

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Happiness is a hot coffee + a good book.

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