Gillard’s Facebook forum slammed as ‘inappropriate’

Article by Rhiannon Elston  /
SBS /
October 09, 2012 /
Click here to view original /

The Prime Minister’s attempt to use her official Facebook page to interact with Australians soured yesterday after participants left a barrage of insults on her page.

Comments about Julia Gillard’s recently deceased father and degrading remarks about her body were posted to the page amid comments about education. Offending comments were later removed by a moderator.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne from the school of Social and Political Science at Melbourne University says she questions the wisdom of the Prime Minister using Facebook as a means to communicate directly with citizens, saying the offensive backlash should have been anticipated.

“It’s disgusting in terms of what people wrote, but who is surprised by this?”

“The internet has given this buffer to what people feel comfortable saying, even if they wouldn’t say it in person. Different rules of conduct apply.”

The Prime Minister has fallen into the same trap that several big Australian brands have already fallen victim to when hosting social media conversations, says Dr Rosewarne. They wrongly assume Australians feel nothing but goodwill towards them.

“If Julia Gillard’s staff did not anticipate [such comments], they all need to be fired. Every one of them.”

Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier disagrees, saying the Prime Minister’s use of Facebook should be seen as a positive move.

“Just being on the medium is already communicating that they’re trying to engage in a more open and transparent fashion with the populous.”

“I think in the world of social media, [engagement] is changing because nobody really has it all worked out. Mistakes are absolutely tolerated. It’s more about getting out there and using the space.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told SBS audience reach was an important part of the decision to use the social media site to host a forum. “Nearly 11 million Australians are on Facebook. It is now as big as the major TV channels.”

“The Prime Minister was the first senior politician in Australia to use it for a conversation with voters because it reaches so many people, so conveniently and in an informal setting.”

“Like all Facebook sites comments can only be removed after they have been posted.”

Social media is becoming an increasingly utilised tool in global politics. US President Barack Obama hosted a similar question and answer-style forum on Reddit in August.