How you shaped the election

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9 September 2010

This election, online issues finally got the attention they deserve. And the situation is here to stay, writes Colin Jacobs of Electoric Frontiers Australia.

I'M NOT TALKING about which party had the most Facebook followers or made the most gaffes on Twitter (Julia Gillard and Family First, respectively). Serious issues around internet governance and our internet future came into play, and by all accounts will continue to be significant as the situation plays out this week.

The first issue that affected the election was Labor's mandatory internet censorship policy, 3 years old and counting. Throughout that time, I believe the accepted wisdom amongst the scheme's proponents - the most notable being of course Senator Conroy - was that it would be unpopular with a handful of geeks but would appeal to the wider audience of mums and dads in the electorate.

If this was indeed the strategy, I think it backfired. Although it's based on mainly anecdotal evidence, I believe many internet users had their political consciousness awoken by this attempt to slap censorship on the country's net connections. When this issue was important to people, it didn't just put them slightly off-side, but made them hopping mad, if not lifelong skeptics of the ALP. Over time I have spoken to MPs and parliamentary staffers of all stripes, and I'm pleased to report that many people did indeed contact their elected representatives and let the opinions be known. For some MPs, this amounted to a veritable flood, and the issue was absolutely on their radar.

 

Unfortunately, we'll never be able to quantify what this did to Labor's vote. The fact is that Labor suffered a big swing against them, and it's worth noting that most of this swing went to the Greens, the most vocal opponents of the filter in Parliament. At the ballot box, we can't disentangle the filter from other issues such as climate change and refugees that the Greens campaigned on, but I believe the filter played a big role.

The Coalition, of course, decided to oppose the filter themselves, and this didn't happen until the election campaign was already underway. Once again, from reading the feedback online, there's some evidence that this gave their campaign a boost amongst Australia's netizens. The fact that they decided to make an announcement then, rather than wait for the legislation as they had previously indicated, shows that they thought this was the case as well.

So while I wouldn't want to oversell it, internet users are hardly a minority in Australia, and issues close to their hearts are at getting more attention than ever before.

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