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03 May 2019

Ghosts of social media past, a very modern political problem

Tags : Politics Social Media LNP ALP

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There has been a conga line of candidates who have been disendorsed or quit in recent days – and more to come I’d say – all due to comments they have made on social media.

There has been all sorts of talk about why this election has been particularly bad for social media, though ‘debate’ seems to fall into two main talking points:

  • Why didn’t these political parties vet their candidates better?
  • Why didn’t these candidates clean up their Social Media?

The first one, yes, I totally agree, political parties should vet their candidates better.

The second, not so much. Cleaning or deleting old facebook, Instagram or twitter posts is not really the answer and personally I think this issue of Social Media ‘pasts’ and politics really needs to be addressed more fully.

For starters… Just deleting old posts like they never happened is rather ridiculous, like trying to hide the body. If you have political enemies or just detractors, there will always be someone who has screen shot an odious social media post. Hell, I’ve done it myself before, thinking “well, that will come back to bite you in the arse”, knowing full well, that an advisor will most likely tap them on the shoulder and say, “yeah, probably shouldn’t say that mate” and it will be deleted pretty quickly. Too late, as myself – and most likely quite a few others – have probably already done a quick copy & paste of the original post.

Very smart IT types also know exactly how to backdate social media and websites to see what was written at a particular time, so again, removing posts just makes you look more guilty in my opinion.

THIS is where I am worried though. After a discussion about the number of candidates getting pinged for shitty social media posts, my daughter, who is 24 – 25 this year – turned around and said:

“I could never be a politician”

When asked further, she explained how she can’t even remember what rubbish she would have posted on likes of MySpace – yeah, that is a blast from the past – when she was like 12. Pretty much from a teenager onwards, her life has been online with obviously social media being a massive part of it. Her attitude was there would definitely have to be certain posts on a plethora of social media platforms at some stage that would come back to bite her in the arse, even if she didn’t think that way anymore.

Now if you don’t know her, Caitlin (@LacyMartini) is a very thoughtful person. Yes, I know you are thinking she is your daughter of course you think that, but, honestly she is. To imagine her saying anything racist, sexist or bigoted is pretty hard to believe. Saying something angry or intemperate over the years, that she may regret now? Well, that I would believe.

Like most young adults she has had her horrible periods, issues with Mental Health, being bullied in high school, trauma of a serious accident etc. and this is before you get into the normal issues that teenagers and young adults experience while they are growing and learning and struggling with ‘adulting’.

This is something I think we really need to consider. Pretty much, any candidate who is under the age of 35 is probably going to have something shitty they have posted or shared on one of the social media platforms at some stage.

If we turn around and say every single one of them who has had this happen can’t be a candidate, we will be left with what? Young adults who grew up sheltered and have never interacted in the real world, which would be dry and to be honest, not even close to ‘representative’ OR young adults who are pretty much sociopathic, always knowing they wanted to be a pollie and had the cash to pay a specialist to scour their social media and cleanse it – ie burying the bodies – which to my mind, is dishonest.

Or we just have less and less younger people putting up their hand to be in Government every year as they know it is not worth it, will get pinged for something stupid said years ago?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not condoning anything that any candidate has ever said. But I also don’t think it is a black and white issue. Look at two recent examples, Jessica Whelan (34) and Luke Creasey (29), both are under 35.

Note: There are many others, though, let’s be honest, they are a lot older, their posts were made in the last 2 years and pretty sure they actually own what they said and still believe it, so I’m only discussing younger candidates in this post.

Let's look at Jessica Whelan first who seems to really hate Muslims and the odd disparaging ‘cleavage’ comment

Personally I think Ms Whelan is a case of what NOT to do when you stand as a candidate. Some of her worst comments are relatively recent, as in 2017, ie "He's a filthy Muslim!" in relation to Mohamed Noor when he was charged with killing Justine Damond Ruszczyk, so we are not talking ancient history here.

Some of her posts being relatively recent would make it hard enough for her to defend, not to mention she has so many over the years with a similar anti-Muslim theme, but… people do grow and learn, though instead of apologising when the first one came to light, she called it fake.

Now, this is an issue, people do fake media posts, so will be a future issue for all of us.

Obviously Mr Morrison believed her as defended in the media and said would report to Australian Federal Police. Though, will note, many on social media are saying no report was made, so that is not a good look?

Worse, more examples of odious social media comments came out and did Ms Whelan apologise?

Nope, she hid from media. That is never going to make you guilty? Much?

Now of course this morning she has resigned as a candidate. In fact, I got the impression from Simon Birmingham’s presser that Jessica Whelan’s biggest crime was not the utterly odious comments she was making but the fact she was not upfront with the party and has now put them in a crappy position in the electorate of Lyons.

You don’t change your ‘values’ much in a two year period, you also don’t really develop and grow a hell of a lot between the ages of 31/32 and 34. So pretty safe to assume Ms Whelan still subscribes to her anti-Muslim leanings.

On the other hand we have Luke Creasey who first came to attention with revelations he shared an utterly repulsive “Hey I just met you, if you don’t date me, you’ll go to prison, I’ll say you raped me” meme plus other odious crap about refugees & pornographic rubbish. This was back in 2012, which I think is really important.

Now, don’t get me wrong, no way in hell am I condoning what he shared, EVER.

What I would point out, is there is a massive difference to how a 21/22 year old thinks and a 29 year old with more years of adulting under his belt? I don’t know this bloke, though considering he is a teacher, would assume he was at Uni at the time, stuffed if I know what his social circle or pressures were on him, or whether he was just young and dumb and trying to be a legend in front of ‘mates’? Who cares, they were really shitty things to share.

For me, what matters if you have learned from your past mistakes. Own them. Are honest about them.

Now Creasey has apologised, did it pretty quickly too:

“It’s been brought to my attention that some posts I shared on social media several years ago when I was in my early 20s have been circulated.”
“What I said was stupid, immature and in no way reflects the views I hold today. I apologise for these posts which have been removed.”

OK fair call, he probably was stupid & immature, so good he apologised, though, I still don’t really think that cuts it. I think his apology should have been fuller as removing them doesn’t make them go away.

People do change over time. I saw it in my own circle of family and friends through the horrible Same Sex marriage  so-called debate. Many had never considered LGBTIQ people, never considered any ‘gay’ jokes to be particularly hurtful, nor thought it was really an issue. Due to LGBTIQ issues being highlighted they actually came to understand what life is actually like as a ‘minority’, gained a lot more empathy, learned and are better people for it.

I also look at my daughter’s ex partner. He and friends only 2 or 3 years ago would make sexist jokes. Though after spending a few years with my daughter, learned a lot more about how women are treated, became a lot more aware and hell, I’d almost call him a feminist now. Again, a young man who’s view changed between the ages of 20 and 25 due to wider life experience.

I don’t hold the view like some that once something shitty is said it should be held against them forever.

Unless… They can’t show me they honestly have changed. Honesty being the operative word.

Now with Creasey, I’m unsure. Personally I don’t feel that apology is good enough. Had this young man said something along the lines of:
“Like many young adults, I have said and shared stupid things on social media, that looking back on, I am truly embarrassed and ashamed about. In fact, I can’t believe that I felt leaving home and going to Uni, I had to act in this manner to think it made me a man and for others to like me. I wish I had been a better young adult. I wasn’t. This is something we all need to be aware of and as a teacher, I fully understand how toxic masculinity can grow insidiously and we need to be aware of this at a much younger age. Thankfully I grew up, others don’t. We need to stop the boys will be boys culture.”

Now something like that, particularly if he had say done this quite a few months ago when he planned to be a candidate, ie, had a social media audit done, looked at the results that got pinged, pretty much sat there and went “OMG! How much of a dick was I”, then did a thoughtful, honest, social media post about his social media history, well, that could be forgiven. In fact, could be used as a good example of a learning experience.

THIS sort of thing is what I think is going to have to happen more in the future. For younger people to own their social media mistakes and address them, before they become candidates.

Though for this to be accepted, they will have to be brutally honest and media will have to also be accepting of that and actually reward the admitting of past dramas if they are owned up to honestly.

I’m not sure if our current crop of media can do this? I sincerely hope they can. I’m assuming they can if the fact that there are no longer calls for LNP candidate for Herbert Phillip Thompson  - another younger candidate – who had posted back in 2012 pretty much saying he would shoot Muslims – to be disendorsed? He came out back in January, said he was extremely embarrassed, talked about his “dark depths of ill mental health and post traumatic stress disorder” after being discharged from the military in 2012.

More importantly, in my opinion, he then went on to urge other soldiers who experienced ‘ill thoughts about others’ to speak freely with Open Arms or close friends, avoid social media and seek help.  I hope he was being honest. This to me shows he learned, understood what had happened and what he said should not be held against and make him unsuitable to be a candidate. If he was being honest in his statements, should actually make him a better candidate as it shows he can learn and grow and is a mentally healthy person now and should not lose the right to attempt to have a Government career due to one shitty period in his life.

Social media is not going away. Just increasing. This means it has to addressed. Expecting every single candidate in future to be squeaky clean is just not realistic.

You never know, it might become a habit where like we saw on “You Can’t Ask That”, the recent ex-politicians episode, where they were refreshingly honest about their time in politics and how they really thought - well all except for Vanstone. Politicians are just not rewarded for honesty, particularly by media, therefore they obfuscate, don’t tell whole truth etc. etc. So maybe a bit more honesty and ‘reality’ in politics in all aspects, including social media could be good?

Would be interested in your thoughts? I don’t know about you, but I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes on social media - and in real life - and said stuff I was not proud of for a variety of reasons. I hope I was adult enough to apologise properly and learned from them?

I think the only way we can address these ghosts of social media past moving forward is to encourage more honesty and reward honesty, reward candidates and politicians who speak candidly and are genuine.

If we don’t?  I’m not sure I want a future where the only politicians we have come from an even tinier pool of ‘supposedly’ squeaky clean?

Of course those who have made ‘recent’ odious comments of the misogynist, bigoted, fascist or racist? Well, guess we are glad we know how you ‘honestly’ think now before you get a chance to infect our Parliament, so give Mark Humphries a call and don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out ;-)

Cheers,
Noely

Updated: 1.20pm 03 May 2019
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