Social media skeletons changing the face of politics

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By Graduate Consultant David Abbott

Social media skeletons have been jumping out of candidates’ closets left, right and centre this Federal election campaign, dominating media discourse and infuriating political parties. 

While holding people accountable for their past actions and words is in essence a good thing, the increasing regularity of these slip-ups and the intense media scrutiny which has ensued also raises questions about the efficacy of our political system in the digital age. 

Should we tolerate sexism, racism or other bigoted commentary? Absolutely not. Particularly when this type of commentary is delivered by someone purporting to be representative of a broad and diverse electorate. 

But what are the implications of intensely focusing on the past actions of candidates? Actions which might have taken place years ago and actions which may no longer represent their views. 

It could be argued that by doing so we are limiting our political pool by excluding everyone except those who commit to being a future politician at an early age and maintain a sterile image throughout their formative years. 

Try to remember a decision you made or an opinion you held in your youth which you would not want on the public record. I’m sure most of you can.  

Many of you would have made this decision before the rise of social media and as a result, there is no record of it happening apart from in your own mind. 

Then remember that social media is still a very young phenomenon of which the rules and consequences of use have still not been fully established or understood.  

In many cases people who happened to make a poor decision in the early days of social media could perhaps be excused for not understanding the permanence of this decision and the future implications of their actions. 

People make mistakes and people do things they are not proud of. Should people also be afforded the opportunity to learn from these mistakes and change their opinions before they put their hand up for public office?  

By creating an environment which leaves us with only cookie-cutter career politicians with carefully manicured images to choose from, we run the risk of eliminating individuality and normalcy from politicians and robbing ourselves of a representative democracy. 

With Facebook only existing in Australia for around 15 years, this new media and political fixation with historical social media activity might not only be sterilising the political pool, but also be robbing us of an entire generation of potential leaders. 

If this level of social media scrutiny continues or even increases, who could blame anyone who grew up alongside Facebook (which could be estimated to be anyone aged between 15-35 in 2019) for being hesitant to run for office and have every skerrick of their online activity dug up and laid out for public comment? 

There is no doubt political parties need to up their game when it comes to the vetting of candidates, but where do we draw the line about what is an acceptable past indiscretion and what is a step too far? 

They say anything posted online is never truly deleted, let’s hope a generation’s right to political representation isn’t erased by social media skeletons either. 

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