This Present Madness

Social media is now entrenched in our civil society. Digital communities have given power to people and increased participation in democratic processes. Politicians are well aware of the importance of including social media platforms in their campaigns.

In 1993, Rheingold foresaw that this technology would miss its mark if not ‘used intelligently and deliberately by an informed population” (Rheingold 2000). However Rheingold did not foresee how controversial an ‘informed population’ would become.

‘Gunk’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

Social media added a powerful element to the voters’ voice outside the ballot box, giving balance to politicians, mainstream media and journalists (Enli 2017). In 2016, platforms became the battleground for ‘fake news’ in US election campaign. Axel Bruns, QUT, says the Twitter hashtag #auspol is part of Australian political furniture, and used by consumers to engage in political debates (Bogle 2016).

Social media is used primarily as a marketing tool in politics, as the need to control the message overwhelms any forum for enlightened public debate. Politicians are able to speak directly to voters without constraints of media ‘interpretation’, and attempt to control how the public perceive them. Even Trump’s so-called amateurish approach to Tweets is a deliberate statement of his authenticity. A performance, originally establishing his ‘outsider’ position (Enli 2017).

Compare approaches made by Australian pollies throughout our revolving door of Prime Ministers, from shaving cuts to budgie smugglers, and you see who maintains distance behind staffers or connects directly with constituents. It is imperative for anyone in politics to have a social media presence when campaigning for votes, especially engaging with the younger audience. Without authenticity, candidates wont hold up to their more intense scrutiny.

Choosing the platforms is a matter of horses for courses: be more sociable on Facebook, more serious on Twitter, use humour on Tumblr, and policies on LinkedIn. Get the platform wrong and you’ll look like a goose. Or worse, you’ll lose the audience and become a trending joke. Platforms are notorious for kicking politicians around, whether in a seriously degrading way, such as Reddit, or humorously by the teenage mimics on TikTok.

‘Globalisation’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

However the red flag is more serious. Social media in politics and civil culture has a darker side. Knowing where your information comes from drives democracy (Arvanitakis 2017). Far from a free flow of information, the algorithms are set to feed each individual with their own bias. Social media platforms are highly controlled media environments, making excellent use of the human tendency to “look for evidence that supports belief systems we already have in place” (Ohler 2017). Our own confirmation bias means we become part of the machine that spreads misinformation and disseminates ‘fake news’.

‘Disgusting Lies’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

To find truth about controversial stories, it is imperative to read from diverse sources. This begins with a rare desire to know the truth. Suffering from information bombardment, it’s easier to follow what ‘our team thinks’. It’s the opposite of critical thinking (Ohler 2017). Social media plays a significant role in how we learn political information as we don’t question information forwarded by people we trust (Bode 2016). Politicians also know that even disinterested people will learn without any involvement as a by-product of using social media (Bode 2016).

And it gets worse. In 2018 Cambridge Analytica was shut down because of their use of private data to manipulate US 2016 election through targeted social media posts. Using psychographics, the ‘persuadables’ were exposed to curated unmarked political messages. These methods were used to sway over 100 elections in 30 countries (Ghoshal 2018).

We are far from an ‘informed population’. We are digital citizens facing a crisis in media literacy, meanwhile, this present madness threatens our democracy.

Alexander Nix (Cambridge Analytica) explains psychographics


MDA2009 Assignment 1B Politics and civic cultures


Arvanitakis, J 2017, ‘If Google and Facebook rely on opaque algorithms, what does that mean for democracy?’, ABC News, Viewed 11 April 2020, <;

Bode, L 2016, ‘Political News in the News Feed: Learning Politics from Social Media’, Mass Communication and Society, Viewed 12 April 2020, <;

Bogle, A 2016, “#auspol: The Twitter hashtag Australia can’t live without”, Mashable, Viewed 12 April 2020, <;

Enli, G 2017, ‘Twitter as arena for the authentic outsider: exploring the social media campaigns of Trump and Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election’, European Journal of Communication, 32(1), pp. 50–61, Viewed 12 April 2020, <;

Ghoshal, D 2018 ‘Mapped: The breathtaking global reach of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company’ Quartz, Viewed 12 April 2020, <;

Ohler, J 2017, ’Confirmation Bias and Media Literacy’ Connections, Consortium for Media Literacy, Viewed 11 April 2020, <;

Rheingold, H 1993, “The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier” (Paperback 2000) The Digital Citizen, Wired, Viewed 12 April 2020, <;


Leunig, M 2020, “Cartoons”, Works, © Michael Leunig, Viewed April 2020 <;

Nix, A 2016, “Cambridge Analytica – The Power of Big Data and Psychographics”, YouTube, viewed March 2020, <;