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The power of social media

The Jones affair, and an outbreak of obscenities after Julia Gillard's responses in an education forum on Facebook yesterday raise big questions about the power of social media. Unfortunately, in an age when everyone wants black and white responses, there are no easy answers.

"The Parrot" as they call shock jock Alan Jones, is squawking at the treatment he's received after his appalling comment that the PM's father died of shame because of her lying. It's hard to take his complains of being bullied seriously. As Kevin Rudd said yesterday, he's getting back a bit of what he's shovelled out for decades.

In fact, it's not Jones who's been bullied. But some of his advertisers feel they have been.

Dozens of advertisers and sponsors sniffed the wind of public opinion and withdrew from the program or the station as the social media campaign built up after Jones' remark was revealed.

All strength to their arms. But there is a fine line — between firms responding to public opinion, and being intimidated by a campaign targeted at them, especially when it bombards them individually. A number of those remaining — before Macquarie Radio stopped all advertising on the program — were small enterprises. Their vulnerability to damage from a tough campaign is proportionately greater than that of larger companies.

By giving ordinary people a voice, social media is empowering voters and consumers. This is obviously a good thing, whether it is to enables them to have more political say or get better service from companies.

But the medium also has potential to bring out the worst as well as the best.

While Jones' enemies, especially on the left, are glad to see him get his comeuppance, they should also remember that in other circumstances some of his nastier allies on the right could also mobilise support to hunt their targets.

Much of the misogynist denigration of Julia Gillard has been coming though social media. Who would expect a session on education would lead to the grossest personal remarks that would never find their way into a newspaper? In this case, surely that should have been properly moderated by the PM's office.

Mounting concern about trolls, and Ipsos Mackay research finding that people worry about the culture of "narcissism and self-absorption" promoted by Facebook are other reminders that social media can sit anywhere between the ideals of Athenian democracy and the depths of mob tyranny.

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85 comments

  • I don't think Michelle likes women in power much either.

    outbreak of obscenities??

    hardly.

    I mean, it's the internet, there's always going to be those who don't know how to handle it.

    There were a lot of positives to it. I thought she showed guts.

    Commenter
    sarajane
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 7:49AM
    • Shooting the messenger from behind a pseudonym is what the article is all about.

      Perhaps if email addresses were made public on every aspect of the internet there would be no place to hide and responsibility would have to be taken ?

      Commenter
      J. Fraser
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 8:54AM
    • Agree with what you say about Michelle not liking "other" women in power, it is the only reason I can think of for firstly her pursuit of the Prime Minister , though not sure of Right wing females, haven't heard her comment on Sophie Mirabella, Julie Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop etc

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 10:01AM
    • Clearly you haven't listened to Michelle Grattan talking to Fran Kelly in the mornings on Radio National. Michelle is providing a balanced point of view, something that is so appallingly lacking in todays news and politics. When someone is derided by the extreme left and extreme right then you know that they are centrist and appeal to the voters who count: the swinging voters.
      I am a firm believer that the swinging voters will see reason at the end of the day and when the key time comes, the next election, will support the PM. She has been statesmanlike throughout this hate campaign from Alan Jones and the great inner strength that she has shown is what we need in the leader of our nation.

      Commenter
      Bennopia
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 11:07AM
    • Bennopia you are wrong Grattan has lost her objectivity, you only have to look at a list of headlines to see. The moment I saw the following headline I knew the article was going to be by Grattan. "Face it, Prime Minister: Slipper is not fit for high office"

      Commenter
      Bronwyn
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 4:30PM
  • If firms, big or small, want to associate themselves with Mr Jones and the rubbish he talks then they have to be prepared to take the consequences when things get nasty. I will personally boycott any brand that goes back to using Mr Jones to sell their products.

    Commenter
    Treadly
    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 7:55AM
    • I will too ................. and I will continue to do it as courteously as possible.

      Always giving my full name, address and phone number.

      Commenter
      J. Fraser
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 8:56AM
    • If you don't listen to the show, then why do you care so much? If you do listen to the show, isn't the best protest to just never listen to the show again?
      Personally, I think that Alan Jones (along with many of the talk back radio hosts) have very little constructive input into society, but by being part of the listening audience, you allow them to become your voice (as seen by advertisers). If enough people tune out, then the advertisers will look elsewhere to place their dollar. So you're better saving your time and talking to people you know about not listening to these guys.. it's the only long-term solution.

      Commenter
      Activist
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 8:58AM
    • > If you don't listen to the show, then why do you care so much?

      Because he's a misogynist bully, who uses lies and misinformation to demonize people who can't defend themselves. I wouldn't stand by and watch someone doing it next to me, any more than I will put up with it on our airwaves.

      Commenter
      Pi
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 9:45AM
    • @"Activist"

      Perhaps you hadn't noticed that the serial offender Jones works hard to get his bile across all forms of media.

      Commenter
      J. Fraser
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 9:47AM

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