Quick Post: Why the GetUp ad strategy is killing political discussion (and my daddy issues) #auspol

An advert from GetUp criticising Rupert Murdoch was rejected by the mainstream press.  Social media went into outrage mode, sharing and retweeting links to the video.

Rupert Murdoch - World Economic Forum Annual M...

Rupert Murdoch – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the biggest problem in contemporary political discourse is the abuse of outrage.  We don’t seek to persuade people who disagree with us.  Instead, we seek to get our supporters incoherently outraged.  I’ve argued elsewhere that it’s a deliberate strategy in the asylum seeker debate — both ‘sides’ of politics have more to gain from trashing the debate than participating in it.

But GetUp has taken this in a new direction.  No person who sees that advert will change their opinion about Murdoch.  There’s no content to it whatsoever.  The point of the advert is not — crazily enough — to draw attention to Murdoch but to draw attention to GetUp.

In other words, we are now at the point in political discourse that an organisation like GetUp can cynically bank on the value of outrage.  GetUp didn’t try to get the adverts played on YouTube, or on any of the other new media outlets.  Instead, they targeted the part of the industry which was not relevant to their target audience in order to get free publicity elsewhere.

This is indicative of something incredibly sick at the heart of political debate.

But look instead at the consequence of this sort of activity.  Surely the point of political debate is to persuade and be persuaded.  Instead, we’ve seen this GetUp advert, the ‘dontbeafuckingidiot’ website, and various other campaigns which were targeted instead at convincing people who already agree with them that they should agree with them.

Abbott’s campaign team understood this problem early.  Because all the polls were in their favour, they had to do very little in order to keep in the ‘lead’.  Jaymes Diaz and Ray King have been able to hide from public debate and still come across as contenders for their seats.  Why?  Because they had more to lose from upsetting their supporters than they had to gain from convincing people who disagree with them.

Rudd’s team has not had that luxury and they needed to convince the disillusioned.  As a result, we’ve had…  Not much.  The Left has shown that it has no idea how to convince swinging voters.  Worse, websites like ‘dontbeafuckingidiot’ have shown that the Left gets belligerently upset when swinging voters don’t make the effort to agree with them.

I’ve only ever heard this reasoning once before in my life.  When I was a teenager, my estranged father had a whinge that my brothers and I didn’t make more of an effort to see him.  The whinge was actually a phrasing of a different truth: he didn’t know us well enough to form a relationship.

The Left is currently suffering the same problem that my father had with me.  They simply do not understand swinging voters enough to engage with them.  Instead of acknowledging this failure and working to correct it, they instead complain that swinging voters are ignorant and obstinate and uncooperative and unthinking sheep.

Outrage is the manifestation of prejudices confirmed.  If you want to change people’s opinion, you need to change the language of people’s intuitions.  Should Rudd fail to retain government this Saturday, the Left will need to look at its foot-stamping political strategy.  GetUp has shown that it’s part of the problem and not part of the solution.

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7 thoughts on “Quick Post: Why the GetUp ad strategy is killing political discussion (and my daddy issues) #auspol

  1. That’s an interesting slant on the election efforts of our political circus, Mark.
    A lot of it makes sense to me, but I’m sure someone else will say it’s a heap of crap.

    Snakeoil salesmen vary their techniques to counteract the other sides efforts, and the election results doesn’t necessarily give the prize to the best political side, no, it goes to the side with the smoothest snakeoil salesmen.

    Hey, what a wonderful system.

    Yep, all Abbotts mob had to do was lay low, keep quiet and don’t let the public see the blemishes until after the election.

    I might vote for the neighbours cat.

    On the up side, it’s been a wonderful time for political cartoonists……..

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/

    Cheers

    Mick

  2. Hey – its a really interesting take on the situation. I actually contributed money to that Getup campaign as I do from time to time for a few of their campaigns.

    You’re talking about a broader issue here which I think is really important. In fact, lets go back and look at how Getup engaged its audience to pay for the ad in the first place. It was about inciting outrage within their member base that regardless of the party you choose to vote for, it is against ACCC guidelines to show biased editorial as if it were news content. And the main reason this rule exists is because research shows humans are highly influenced by what they read, see and hear – particularly if they are exposed to the same message multiple times.

    This is one of the reasons the Freedom and Justice party, controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood was able to secure government after the Arab Spring in Egypt. The average uneducated Egyptian just saw billboards saying ‘Vote for the Freedom and Justice Party”. Now wouldn’t that be the kind of party you’d want to vote for after you and your family had lived under a state of emergency since 1967? But of course now the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to instigate Sharia (Islamic) Law, the Egyptian people realise that they were misinformed by what the media was telling them. That Freedom and Justice in fact meant the exact opposite – it meant the potential end to their entire democratic system! Obviously this is a rather extreme case – but it’s an interesting and relevant case study.

    But back to getup…with 5 days before the election, I’m unsure what technique Getup could have used that would have been more effective (or just as effective) by, as you mention “changing the language of people’s intuitions”. I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on how you think this could be done?

    Because despite the methods, I think any person living in a democratic society with a free media would be concerned that editorial could be portrayed as fact – regardless of whether people are educated enough or not to understand and choose to ignore or believe it.

    I absolutely agree with your thoughts on the asylum seeker debate, it seems no one has tackled the balance of humane and respectful solution that still takes into account costs, economy impact, security and more. Neither party is having a serious debate on it. Perhaps it is related to both parties believing they can gain more by not doing so. I also think part of it is that both major parties have been spending billions in attempts to solve the issue by force over the last 5-10 years, but neither have thought laterally or outside the box. And I think when humans go so far in one direction, it becomes harder and harder to come back and look at what you’ve done objectively – you have a greater need to defend activity. I know I’ve been there before!!

    Anyway, all very interesting points of discussion nonetheless and thank you for sharing your thoughts 😀

    • Cheers!

      I had to go away and have a bit of a chin scratch about your question and then rewatched GetUp’s advert.

      There are a few parts to the answer, making the answer inelegant and bulky.

      The first part relates to whether or not GetUp’s advert is correct in its attack on Murdoch. This broadens out the issue to a discussion about what the nature of news is and what the nature of editorials is, &c., &c., &c. As a rightwing writer, I’m extremely concerned about the quality of opinion writing in Australia. Murdoch’s tabloids running front page opinions of extremely poor quality is a problem for political debate, even if it’s of a different kind to the Egyptian election problem. The front page of a newspaper is as good a place for opinion as any but, just as we should expect top quality news, we should also expect top quality opinion.

      But this position might reveal a difference in intuitions about why newspapers exist. Journalists are taught that they are a vital part of a democracy and that they need to protect the freedom of the press from governments, &c., &c., &c. I completely disagree with that position and don’t think that newspapers should be given the protections that they have. If they had fewer protections, they’d be on an equal playing field with the rest of us and there would be fairer participation in the marketplace of ideas. In other words, if you think that the press should have protections (like journo shield laws, &c.) then there’s a question about the extent to which you could have ACCC laws which regulate the content of those newspapers. On the other hand, if you think that the press is just another industry, then regulation is more easily justified.

      The second part of the answer relates to whether or not GetUp’s advert is effective in its attack on Murdoch. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the points that you made in your comment, they are good arguments. But there’s no argument to GetUp’s ad. If I disagree with the point of the ad, I won’t watch it and have my views challenged. If we assume that we can understand the ad’s intent from the ad’s effects, we’re stuck with the assumption that this ad was designed to flare up people who already disliked Murdoch.

      This is what I mean about outrage being the manifestation of prejudices confirmed. Outrage is visceral. We don’t sit around with whiteboards and an abacus working through the issues rationally until we come to a position of outrage. Outrage is something that our bodies do on behalf of our brains.

      GetUp’s ad speaks to outrage rather than to thought. If I were writing the advert for them, I’d speak to thought through promoting doubt instead. Specifically, I’d target the doubt that Murdoch passive-supporters have towards the elite:

      ‘This election campaign, US billionaire Rupert Murdoch has said a lot about Rudd, but what are the papers not covering? What doesn’t Murdoch want us to know? Who aren’t they scrutinising? How much do you really know about what’s going on?’

      The only difference is that this ad probably wouldn’t have been banned by the major networks and, thus, would have been more effective.

      Sorry for the massively tl;dr response…

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  4. To your point – regardless of perhaps what was most “effective” given the time available and the situation…the other question is, was it the best approach from a credibility perspective for Getup? (in terms of how others in Australia may now perceive Getup as an organisation that chooses to act in a certain way that they may not agree with)

    Because, you make a REALLY fantastic point in terms of how making the debate about the ISSUE rather than about Murdoch could be detrimental. By switching it around the other way, it limits the debate to a person rather than to the deeper concern – which just further polarizes thought rather than uniting it. It creates a potential credibility issue for Getup that was purely related to the approach rather than the credibility of the issue itself.

    As you say, the issue itself is valid – and in fact ties in really nicely to your thoughts on whether or not the press should be free to operate outside of the control of government. Connections between the private sector in a capitalist democratic societies and those in positions of government power are so much closer than most people think (or would like to pretend to believe!).

    The free association of press and protections provided to them were perhaps created during the time of the creation of modern democracy (I haven’t fact checked this)…making it a protection that never assumed the potential for big business to “own” media and therefore to “own” what would be relevant news to the citizens of a country. It assumed that by providing these protections, the free association of press would keep governments in check…never thinking that in many ways the issue is now about governments keeping private corporate entities in check instead!

    So 100+ years on, we now live in a world where governments and private business have just as much power as each other, in fact – given that the two major parties Liberals and Labor are also the same two parties that receive $67m and $64m respectively in campaign contributions, most from corporations – while parties without financial support simply cannot achieve the share of voice necessary to achieve government power – we could suggest these private entities, collectively, have a much greater power than government, by choosing where to put their political donations.

    Nice response – I think its good to make each other think and question why we do things, or break down our thoughts further into what might be a simple reaction vs. what we actually believe. 🙂

    I must say I had less than zero interest in politics and history 4-5 months ago and then one day it hit me that I wanted/NEEDED to know more – so this is all new to me and I’m really enjoying learning about different perspectives.

    • Sorry I meant the opposite – i.e – meant to write: “Because, you make a REALLY fantastic point in terms of how making the debate about the PERSON rather than about the ISSUE could be detrimental. “

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