OPINION

We're tuning in more, but are we any better informed?

This won't be our first Facebook election. For years now voters have been tuning out of the news and getting their knowledge elsewhere.

What's different today is the fracturing of society; the way people have stopped listening and feeling as if our national project is a common one, shared by all of us. The election campaign is splintering.

Labor hasn't helped. Watching pictures of Chloe Shorten visiting rainforests makes for great video nights, but it's not exactly an urgent call to arms or reason to vote the government out. Maybe after being ahead in the polls for so long Labor doesn't feel it needs to give voters a reason to turf the government out and thinks it just needs to reassure us.

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his wife Chloe speak to a ranger as they walk through the Skysail rainforest cableway in Cairns. Photo: AAP

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his wife Chloe speak to a ranger as they walk through the Skysail rainforest cableway in Cairns. Photo: AAP

Scott Morrison wasn't holding a lump of coal as he waved his arms at church the other day, but you know he's got one securely lodged somewhere - perhaps it's firing up the barbie where he's toasting sangas to a crisp. No surprises there. And yet (aside from tax cuts and warnings about the dangers of the opposition), where are the policies to take us into the third decade of this century?

No matter what you're told, there's a reason the battle hasn't been joined publicly yet. It isn't simply because people haven't switched on to the campaign. They have.

The difference is that today much (most) of the political heavy lifting is being done in other ways, by the "new" media.

This is having a corrosive effect on our society. It's splintering us into different groups, motivated almost exclusively by self-interest. And even though appeals for more spending on common projects, such as health and education, may be framed in terms of public good, the drivers are specifically selected to appeal to individual interest.

So what's behind this?

Over the past decade the exodus from television has accelerated with over half the viewers over 50. The collapse in newspaper readership is even worse. The centre, the core.

This is a huge problem for campaign strategists. Even though it's increasingly possible to target specific messages to particular groups of voters, the big campaign message - the "vibe" that will determine the overall swing - can't be so tightly focused.

Since World War II Labor has only surged across the dispatch box to win government three times. On every occasion the party relied on an overarching theme.

In 1972 (when Labor won under Whitlam) the party proclaimed "it's time". In 1983 Hawke was "Bringing Australia together". Finally we had Rudd; "Kevin '07".

Today it's "A Fair Go".

The point is that it doesn't matter if you find this a limp, uninspiring slogan. That's irrelevant. As long as the individual marketing is hitting home the main requirement of the campaign is simply to reassure voters there's no risk if they vote the government out.

Labor believes the government's already made its case. The opposition doesn't want to storm its way into the citadel, it just wants to walk across the floor. That's why the party is relying on technology to fine tune its message.

We've always shared views with our friends. Exchanged ideas and tit-bits of news.

Today, however, our social circles have become wider. Instead of chatting over coffee with a friend the reach of a post is amplified to every acquaintance.

Then, if one of your friends 'likes' a post or shares it with others, the expansion gains momentum. And now the algorithms kick in to further boost the post, pushing it up the news-feed until it goes viral, occupying space on everyone's feed until it spins off into the dark, vanishing just as quickly as it arrived. But although the provenance of the idea may have disappeared, its deep message will still be working away at your mind.

Our social circles have become wider thanks to social media.

Our social circles have become wider thanks to social media.

Research has conclusively demonstrated that even when we know what we're told is wrong, the passage of time obscures clarity. Unless we've concentrated carefully, ideas quickly jumble together in our mind.

We become confused about specific details and can't remember exactly where we heard things or how accurate they really are.

Until now this sort of individual messaging has always been seen as a bonus; a way of mobilising specific groups to support a party. Today it's a vital way of engendering a broader message.

The way we communicate has changed and, with this, the way we relate to society. This is increasingly centred on the individual and our own personal needs, which is exactly why the politicians aren't worrying so much about the broader narratives.

As long as there's nothing to panic potential voters they don't care if the leader isn't dealing with policy - in fact, they prefer it.

Something like "watergate" - the allegations public money was diverted into water buy-backs to directly benefit Angus Taylor - definitely has the potential to provide the link to an overall message.

Notice, however, how Bill Shorten has left the running on this issue to others. He knows you can't be both down in the mud and the reassuring leader, above the fray.

There are two campaigns running here, one you see and one you don't. One on the public media and the other carefully directed, through the internet.

Which one will mobilise the swinging voters as they stand with their pencils poised in the ballot booths? The strategists are betting big on the specifically targeted messages. What's mobilising you?