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Blaring the Megaphones – one note Twitter and blog usage

When I joined Twitter with the Preston Towers account, it was a politically intense time, with the Gillard spill having just occurred and the election about to be called. In that time, I wandered onto the #auspol hashtag and saw awful mistruths continually hawked by a range of people about the BER, pink batts and the like. Continually repeated, usually with personal attacks made about Gillard. The worst of this crew were @Correllio and @Bulmkt – unapologetically vitriolic and cunning in their way of “engaging” with opponents.  In that time, I repeated the same lines again and again, as I remembered back in time to various union campaigns that underlined the importance of sticking to the message and repeating it.  It’s a tactic borne of the times when union members would stand outside corporate offices and workplaces with megaphones, chanting the same messages for hours.

This megaphone technique was one of the tactics that worked back in 1993 with the Hewson “Fightback” election. I am frequently annoyed that the election was called the “Unlosable Election” by journalists. It wasn’t. Hewson made a set of promises and embarked upon a campaign to sell those messages. The difficulty for Hewson was that he was trying to sell new ideas. I was at one of the rallies Hewson conducted about Fightback – in retrospect, a doomed idea.  Surrounding him was a well drilled set of union members, peppering him with learned lines and, in other cities, eggs.  It’s therefore little wonder that his staffer Tony Abbott is so scared of being under scrutiny that he is avoiding Lisa Wilkinson on Today.   In short, Australia is a country where attempting to sell Change is a difficult idea – a fact John Robertson and the Your Rights at Work campaign seized upon when attempting to call WorkChoices a “change” instead of a “reform”. They won the battle of the word.

This tactic, however, doesn’t work long term, especially on a medium on Twitter, where a lot of the regular users have been members for a long time.  In the world outside Twitter, the same message repeated time and again, gains a tinny resonance and eventually evaporates into irrelevance.  However, there are groups of Megaphone users who don’t understand this principle. They are the ones who continually bark about the same narrow set of topics and concepts, attempting to change the conversation, grasp the agenda.  I am not talking about Liberal supporting tweeps here – most I have spoken with over the years are universally terrible at using social media and having conversations with people in my experience.  Block first, have no discussion later.  I am talking here about “progressive” tweeps.

There’s two distinct groups of progressive megaphones, though with major overlaps. There’s the Party Megaphones, who talk about; the way Tony Abbott is represented, the failed actions of James Ashby, the fact Malcolm Brough is managing to avoid all journalists.   They tweet the same positive lines about their party and won’t hear anything against it (from the ALP and the Greens); or are from the Labor Left and they will criticise everything the right wing do, but continue the belief that everything would be ok “if only Julia would listen to us”.  These people’s views are often neatly represented in the “Independent Australia” online newspaper, whose pages are filled with Labor Left Megaphone articles defending the ALP (even Craig Thomson) or offering advice – both friendly and blunt.

If only Julia would listen to us. It’s that same belief that drives the Media Megaphones, who continually complain about the “MSM” and especially the ABC.  For them, it’s “if only the media would listen to us”. Again, Independent Australia is at the forefront of the megaphone media, talking about the ABC or talking about the IPA continually appearing on The Drum.  They aren’t the only ones, however – there are many blogs that continually loop around the same issues and themes, making long assertions about people and issues without a great deal of supporting evidence.   It’s not a good thing to read a blog about politics that doesn’t have a lot of hyperlinks to evidence or detailed commentary on specific articles that show a pattern.  Some of the blogs about Michelle Grattan’s recent departure from the Age illustrate this point.   These blogs and their megaphone authors run the danger of becoming one note, repetitive and disengaging.  This is the reason I highlight the problem for Independent Australia – I really like the idea of a central point for bloggers and the like. It does run the risk, however, of irrelevance because it is far from being truly independent. One sees far more Labor members and tweeps than genuine independents writing for it.

I have spoken of these issues of problems in the media in the past at length – having a look at my Twitter account and a trip through the pages of the Preston Institute can reveal that. It’s true the ABC do make mistakes, it is probably fair to say that the quality of Michelle Grattan’s work was uneven towards the end and it’s fact that the “balance” on The Drum isn’t even. It’s also the clear case that commercial media outlets like The Australian and Daily Telegraph have shown a clear bias towards the opposition.  However, continually repeating that mantra is getting the megaphones nowhere.  It also makes them sound like Gerard Henderson, Chris Kenny and the “Their ABC” crew from the other side of politics, who make their assertions frequently and without reasoned support.  It gets them nowhere because after a while, people stop listening.

The next step for many of these progressive megaphones, unfortunately, has been to target ABC journalists with Twitter accounts and pepper them with criticism and barbs. Even bloggers / tweeps that have deserved respect and attention through their work think nothing of tearing into an ABC journo engaging in a conversation – something we see much too often in recent days.   I’m not entirely sure that gets anyone anywhere.   This is not to say that it’s a bad thing to make comments about media bias / balance / competence and even make them to a journalist’s Twitter account.  I would suspect most journalists, having a degree of professional pride, would appreciate a bit of constructive feedback.  There is a line, however, between constructive criticism and harping on about a point and having no respect for another person attempting to engage in a conversation.

I know I have personally made many mistakes in this regard – crossing the line, being repetitive, being a megaphone – in my 2 and a half years of being Preston.  It’s easy enough a trap in which to fall if you are passionate about an issue or idea. And then there is those things about pride, stubbornness, arrogance – all those things that unfortunately drive some of us.  It isn’t constructive, however, to just continue to act in the same way without considering the long term impacts of your actions – to not accept criticism and grow from it. Being a megaphone abusing journalists and other Twitter users continually is not an especially sensible move if you want to deliver a sensible, considerate message.

I appreciate the passion and support for an issue that these megaphones possess.  Nor do I begrudge them the desire to tweet support for their political party. After all, I often tweet support for the party of which I am a member.  I have, however, had great discussions / arguments / battles with members of other political parties which included mutual respect and recognition of the desire in the other to make a positive difference in society.   Through this style of Twitter usage, tweeps and bloggers can discover the difference between genuine engagement with ideas and the views of others and just shouting the same notes.    As the election hots up, I hope more people sit down with the virtual coffee rather than reach for the megaphone.

Preston Towers is the nickname given to an apartment building on Preston St, South Penrith. It’s also the pseudonym of a teacher who used to live in that apartment building. He tweets under the name @prestontowers, has a blog called The Preston Institute - prestoninstitute.com, which is a tribute to the King of Institutes, Gerard Henderson. 

25 comments on “Blaring the Megaphones – one note Twitter and blog usage

  1. Noely (@YaThinkN)
    February 11, 2013

    Twitter can also be an issue if you don’t belong to a ‘Team’. If you tweet or agree with something that is Anti Mr Abbott you are consider that you must be on the ‘left/ALP’ side, which can hurt when you turn around and question something that Ms Gillard has done, treated quite poorly because they seem to feel betrayed that you are not on their ‘team’.

    Sometimes the blind obedience to a team can also make it difficult to actually ask a question, both of tweeters & journalists. Often your question is considered to be either a challenge, or stirring, when it fact is what it is, a ‘question’. This mindset makes it hard to educate yourself, as you can already see the mantra’s each side have, so finding out more about what is going on with various policies or issues can be difficult which is a shame, as Twitter and the knowledge of many on Twitter could be used to further educate many on our political system, particularly how it is reported :(

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      Loads of people on Twitter are there to help educate people and be good resources. It’s simply a matter of filtering out the partisan noise.

      Like this

  2. Scott Grundy
    February 11, 2013

    What a partisan viewpoint you show. Those that disagree with you are “megaphone” types. No consideration of the “megaphone” given to so called mainstream media. People have a voice and are raising issues you would rather went away.

    There are very good reasons the issues are not going away. You will have to get used to it. The vested interests controlling the old media are gatekeepers no longer. See Leveson on the criminal actions of a Murdoch controlled organisation.

    The so called “megaphones” have a lot less questions about their role.

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      I don’t disagree with megaphones – they have reasonable questions at times, but it’s about the way they deliver that message. I would also mention that Leveson, while interesting, doesn’t have a lot of relevance to Australia. What is relevant, however, is the shaping of the message by The Australian and the Daily Telegraph to enact a change of government. That is a big concern. It cannot be fixed, however, by shouting at those who want to help bring balance.

      Like this

  3. @KMF_uh_huh
    February 11, 2013

    Very thoughtful piece. But wrt to putting down the megaphones, I’m not sure one can hope for the sluggish ABC to change its ways without being called for its deficiencies. As someone in PR, it’s been important to be understanding and respectful of journalists’ views (and to be seen to be), and consequently, I’ve stood on the sidelines for many months, frustrated and increasingly alarmed about how the ABC has allowed itself to be a proxy for The IPA and co.

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      I can see why you’d have the frustration. I have that same frustration. But I think good commenting is about timing.

      Like this

  4. @KMF_uh_huh
    February 11, 2013

    (cont). I – perhaps naively – hope that the megaphones can make a difference as long as, one, there are enough of us and, two, we are reasonable, logical and persuasive in our arguments and avoid and condemm thuggish, troll-like posts and behaviour. We do ourselves a disservice if we comment on people’s apearance etc.

    Like this

  5. WhitWords
    February 11, 2013

    An interesting perspective on the Twitter debate.
    I guess ‘blaring’ is in the ear of the beholder.

    Cheers. 😊

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      Yes, it very much is. Thanks.

      Like this

  6. Christine Phillips
    February 11, 2013

    Interesting also to note your comment about Tony Abbott avoiding media scrutiny. Surely you are not suggesting that this is reasonable or excusable just because he is frightened. I’m not a member of a political party and I can remember the days when newspapers reported news, not just opinion. Where policy was discussed in detail. Where is the reporting on the vicious campaign being waged against Julia Gillard. The hate sites, the lies. The only time this has been attempted was an ABC presenter who was censured for his effort! I report as spam the trolling tweeters who retweet the same old lies and block, but it very frustrating, which leads me retweeting those that do have the links to the facts.

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      I don’t think it’s reasonable or excusable. Media outlets should hold Abbott to account for his craven avoidance of the spotlight. As for RTing those who have links to facts – yes, it’s good, but I think it’s a good idea to add your own comment to them in order to make the message more personal, rather than repetitive.

      Like this

  7. DeadwoodGooner
    February 11, 2013

    Is it irony day?

    Like this

  8. Victoria Rollison
    February 11, 2013

    Hi Preston

    It was quite interesting to read your post only a couple of weeks after being called a ‘megaphone’ by you on Twitter. You seem to enjoy using this label. I noticed you call @GeorgeBludger this over the weekend also.

    I just wanted to point out that people who support progressive policy, in my experience, are most usually not Labor party hacks or unionists – they are just desperate to make sure that the major party who forms government is not the conservative alternative. I’d be interested to know what you would prefer these ‘megaphones’, supposedly I am one of them, do instead of loudly supporting the only major party that has any hope of beating the conservative alternative? Should we quieten down and just let Abbott win? Or would you like us to campaign for progressive policy only once a day, or is twice ok?

    And when you jump into our conversation with your Greens agenda, should we call you a megaphone or is being a Greens supporter different? Interested in your response.

    Cheers
    Victoria Rollison

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      It’s repetition that’s the issue, not that there are relevant questions to be asked of media outlets that aren’t representing a balanced view of an issue. It annoys me, for example, when I see that The Drum has more conservatives than progressives – even if it’s not a particularly widely watched program. I am also addressing the concept of the hectoring tone a lot of people adopt when engaging with an issue. To be a “loud supporter” of anyone turns off those who are looking to make up their own mind about an issue – being a persuasive supporter is more valuable. As I said in the post, I have been a megaphone at times – a lot of people have been megaphones. Saying that I think that tweeps are sounding like megaphones is more a case of what I think people are sounding like, rather than necessarily an insult. As I say in the post, I appreciate the passion held by people who repeat things often. But not everyone does. I also stated that the Greens have megaphones too. Being a supporter of a political party doesn’t make people megaphones – it’s not a party specific thing. There are plenty of persuasive, non-megaphone Labor tweeps out there – and a few Liberals. It all comes down to approach – my contention is that loudly repeating the same message doesn’t work in the social media environment.

      Like this

  9. Victoria Rollison
    February 11, 2013

    Ok, so why don’t you give us some examples of the repetition that you dislike. Without examples, it’s really hard to see how you’re not describing everyone, or no one.

    Like this

  10. The Geek Rulz
    February 11, 2013

    Let me try and reframe the use of the word “megaphone” from a negative here into a positive. Twitter is the poor man’s megaphone. There it is, the difference between the MSM and their audience.

    Whereas real megaphones like Bolt, Ackermann, Shanahan and others do shout from the top of the roofs by default, the MSM audiences whether progressive or not, only have a limited number of ways to have their voices heard and maybe make them count.

    So when people sign up to twitter, there is no real volume meter agreement that comes with it. Some may shout at eleventy, some at one but they all use twitter how they see fit.

    Some may use twitter better than others, but no one is an expert and everyone is learning as they go along in this new medium. So sure, there may be annoying tweeps out there, but you have the option to unfollow and block them. You also have the option of not following that infamous hashtag #auspol that so titillates your sensitivities.

    There is no need to feel superior but there is a need to be proactive and create your own twitter experience. It is better to do your own thing rather than to complain about others doing it all wrong as you see it. Let others do it wrong, let them be ineffective in your view. What is it to you? Are you trying to help them find their voice? No you are not. You call them big bad “megaphones”.

    It is a real shame that you have not provided one single example to back up your claims of abuse. You will find there are probably only very few – likely on my blocked list – who do this. Yet you throw all and sundry into a big bowl of trolls and megaphones.

    Sorry megaphone is now a positive term for those who only have twitter to put an opposing or alternative view to the MSM narrative.

    Also legitimate questions should be continued to be asked regardless of stonewalling. They are legitimate and valid on the facts, not on opinion and not on repetitions. If the facts change, then the question is either answered or progressed and has to be changed. The Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse is just one example.

    Two final points: You stand accused by your own words here 1) “making long assertions about people and issues without a great deal of supporting evidence.” and here 2) “Being a megaphone abusing journalists and other Twitter users continually is not an especially sensible move”

    Without evidence, we can make all sorts of assertions, even accusing other twitter users (you excluded of course) of abuse.

    I grant that your piece was written with good intentions and may good things come from it. I wish you all the best in your endeavours to improve people and twitter interactions.

    Like this

    • prestontowers
      February 11, 2013

      There is a good reason not to use examples of “abuse” – firstly, I didn’t accuse anyone of abuse in the post. This was never meant to be a “name and shame” piece – that isn’t necessary or helpful. I was speaking of people who continually pepper with the same questions. I think most people who read the original post could provide examples of the approach I wrote about. The responses to me on Twitter today in the aftermath of this post proved my point. Again, I don’t see the need to “name and shame” those commenters either – people should be able to make their comments without being paraded publicly. In addition, this was an opinion piece about the principles of Twitter use. My usual forum, The Preston Institute (shameless plug) is the place I go into detailed analysis and scrutiny of pieces that appear in the media. There can be found many pieces of detailed critique of works produced from most of the major news organisations – ie. the “MSM” as it is called. I too wish you all the best in your endeavours.

      Like this

  11. Vince O'Grady
    February 12, 2013

    Dear Preston,

    I am a contributor to Independent Australia. and you can see my contributions here
    http://www.independentaustralia.net/about/ia-contributors/vincent-ogrady-bio/

    I’m not a megaphone and your characterisation of Independent Australia is entirely incorrect. IA is a place where we can get at the truth. Thanks to the work of David Donovan.

    All of the articles which I have submitted are thoroughly checked by him for their veracity. The links to other places on the web actually show where information is gleaned from. This is in stark contrast with the Main Stream Media.

    No where on the Web has the Craig Thomson or the Slipper matter been covered nearly as comprehensively. Its reasonable and responsible fact telling.

    In fact Independent Australia provides a foil to the media because of this.

    If you read the article i wrote about the Gonski report in response to an article in the Age
    you will see that the Age article was rubbish, the author had no idea what they were talking about and their article was just a poor attempt to show the Union involved in “crisis” with the government.

    If you bothered to read my articles about Slipper and Ashby you would see a true unveiling of the actual progress of the way the sexual harassment case came about. In stark contrast to the Main Stream Media treatment of it.

    In an Article Paul Sheehan wrote and quoted George Brandis and Eric Abetz about dozens and hundreds of rude Text messages. I went to check the facts.

    The facts were that I found one in the period under consideration before the court (Jan to March).

    David and I have spent hundreds of hours in researching the Facts of the story and you casually dismiss it as Megaphone.

    Thanks for your really considered opinion.

    I can also tell you that i have researched and written a 33 page document about how Mal Brough has not been open about his Interviews and the actual evidence of what he actually did all referenced back to sworn evidence on the Web site.

    I have also written a 12 page brief about why there should be a judicial enquiry into this most strange of cases.

    Contrast this approach with the Main Stream Press. What have they done? They have destroyed a good man’s reputation and his Honour Rares J found that to be the case and threw it out of court.

    Where is the balance in the reporting of that? Only one Journalist had the courage to come out and call Mal Brough a Liar and that was Samantha Maiden in the Tele.

    The boot is actually on the other foot Preston, The main Stream media are blaring out their support for the opposition, by telling lies about government policy, repeating ad nauseam the sound bites of Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and Eric Abetz.

    Never mind the truth. That doesn’t matter.

    Your assertions are just that and don’t deserve any credence whatever for the reasons stated above.

    I don’t normally talk to Avatars but just this once thought that I would.

    I wonder if you are a Journalist and write for the MSM. Do tell.

    Like this

  12. Pingback: The MSM – Why More Detailed Critiques are Needed – A Response to Tim Dunlop « AusVotes 2013

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  14. Steve
    March 7, 2013

    Looks like you struck a few nerves there . . . .

    Like this

  15. Steve Thompson
    March 8, 2013

    Mr Abbott and the media repeat his message all day, every day, with no supporting evidence, but you criticise “megaphone tweeps” for doing the same?

    Like this

  16. Pingback: Twits, Not Tweeps – Journalists Conflating Tweets into Psychological Analyses | The Preston Institute

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