Monday 31 March 2014

Social Media and Being a Global Citizen Everyday

Yesterday, at the Auckland Model United Nations conference, I gave a presentation to 250-ish high school students about how to use social media for more than selfies and taking photos of food. The point was that we can use social media for more than just being teenagers; we can use it to create tangible good and affect change in the real world.

Think about how difficult it once was to get a message from one side of the world to the other. Before the 1500s, it was basically impossible. Then we had boats, and it would take a couple of months. Then we got planes, and it would take a few days. Then we got telegraphs, and it could be sent in minutes. Now we have Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Wikipedia, Tumblr, if you're overseas you might have QQ, Tuenti, or Naver, for the (slightly) older ones that might have used MySpace or Bebo, and if you're an employee of Google you might use Google+.

We are the social media generation, we are the ones using these channels every day. We have our own way of communicating through these channels, and when we say ROFL or YOLO or "I literally just can't even" it just doesn't mean anything to a large segment of the older population. We want to talk to each other instantly, we want to share our messages with singles and also with many at once, and we want to grow and develop as human beings together. This video summaries just how mind boggling the growth of social media has been.

Here in New Zealand, there is a massive slant in social media usage towards youth, but the older generation is catching up, and the social media landscape is changing.

Society is moving away from consumption to co-creation. Back in 1909, when Henry Ford was making the Model T, black was the quickest drying paint so he said "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." Customers didn't have choices; they had to buy what was made available to them. Customers didn't have information; they didn't know about alternative products or substitutes. Customers didn't have courage; they were afraid to kick up too much of a fuss with corporations, for both rational and irrational reasons.

But today, customers are king - Nike lets you design your own shoes, Dell lets you build your own computer, Coca-cola lets you design their marketing campaigns for them. Politics is catching up, and it's changing too as more people become more informed. You can @mention an MP and get a response within a few hours. A public policy announcement can be made and people are reacting within seconds. Within a day, tweets, blogs, videos, have been produced and there’s more content generated about the issue that you can absorb. This is something people couldn’t have dreamed about in the past.

Journalists are tweeting about their breaking news before they do the proper write-up. 50% of people hear breaking news via social media rather than official news sources now. If being a politician wasn’t hard enough, now they have to satisfy the instantaneous social media generation and their insatiable need for answers right now. Politics as usual just won’t cut it, and if we want to maintain a meaningful democracy then politics will have to change.

Back in 2001, perhaps the first example of social media creating very large scale political change happened in the Philippines. President Joseph Estrada was facing allegations of corruption, but loyalists in the Congress set aside key evidence. "GO 2 EDSA. Wear Blk" was the text message that was sent more than 7 million times in one week, causing 1 million protesters to flood into Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. The protesting was so massive and so rapid that Estrada resigned three days later, blaming the "text-messaging generation" for his downfall.

Fast forward ten years and we see the undeniable role that social media played in the Arab Spring. In 2011, governments were overthrown in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, with civil war and major protests in at least ten other countries (map from Wikipedia).

“During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks resignation, … the total rate of tweets … about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day.  Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral – the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views [in a day].” – University of Washington

“90% of Egyptian and Tunisian protesters said they used Facebook to organise protests and spread awareness.” - Dubai School of Government

“We use Facebook to schedule the protests, we use Twitter to co-ordinate, and we use Youtube to tell the world.” – Activist in Egypt

So social media is an amplifier - it spreads messages faster and to more people. The protest is moving online - people are expressing their views online and directly to decision makers. Some protests still happen in person, but more and more effective change is being achieved through online means. Importantly, the agenda is increasingly falling out of the control of the media industry - just like people had to accept what corporations sold them, they used to have to accept what the media fed them. Now, the research shows that 60% of people think it's easier to keep up with news today than five years ago, and that is thanks to a massive rise in news consumption from mobile devices rather than more traditional TV, radio, and newspapers. That leads to a more informed constituency, one that is better able to make informed decisions.

“In the past, media provided a filter. If something was on the front page or the evening news, it was considered important. If not, it wasn’t. Yet today, anyone can broadcast—whether it be a distraught mother or a crusading journalist. Nobody needs to ask for permission, even in a corrupt, authoritarian country.” – Greg Satell, Forbes

So we can use social media for good, to have our voices heard, to reveal injustices, and to affect real change in our communities. But what does it mean to be a global citizen?

For me, two quotes sum up the meaning of being a global citizen:
“Things stay the same until something makes them change.”
Things don't get better by themselves.
“Turning good intentions into positive action” – Bill Clinton
It's not enough to just think about it, you have to do something to make things better. We live in an increasingly global society, and we are all citizens of this global society, and we all have a responsibility to make the society the best place we can possibly live in.

But... how do we cut through the noise? Everyone is shouting on social media at once, and there are a million problems that all need attention. There are three common issues:

The 24 hour news cycle - we have to maintain people's engagement on issues. Was the Roast Busters issue ever resolved? Is Novopay fixed? They're stories that have fallen out of the media and out of the mind of the general public because people lose track and lose interest.

Building a respected image - people tend to listen to experts, and when someone who isn't an expert champions an issue either their message is ignored or they are ridiculed. Gareth Morgan might have a very valid point about the dangers of cats to native wildlife, but no one wants to hear it coming from an economist and investment manager.

Gaining the respect of the older generations - because they have the power. We're lucky in New Zealand because for the most part we have a forward-looking perspective but that is often not the case overseas. It can be very difficult to fight against established groups, whether it's because they see the danger and are actively suppressing dissent or because they dismiss social media as irrelevant.

So how can we be heard? We have to appreciate that not everything everyone says is heard, and also not everyone wants to listen. Communication is a two-way process; someone says something, but someone has to listen to it for that communication to be useful. So we have to try to strike a chord with our audience, and make them feel something. Say interesting things that make them want to come back for more. Build a following - chances are, someone else out there has the same views as you, and your power is in the numbers, so find them and work together to achieve your goals. Lastly, don't just shout - listen too.

Even if you don't want to generate content, whether it's because you're afraid or have no idea what to write about, the power of social media is in the amplification. Liking, favouriting, retweeting things that you read are the best way to spread messages that you agree with, and you don't have to say anything yourself if you don't want to. If you don't believe that social media can affect social change at all levels, have a watch of this next video.

So, some questions to think about:
- What image are you projecting online? How are others perceiving what you say?
- What power does one individual have, and how does that get amplified online? What power do YOU as an individual have?
- Can you do more than just being a teenager?

- What are your dreams? What do you care about? What are your passions?
- How can you use that to be a global citizen?

Everyone that is reading this probably knows how to use social media. You're a social media expert because you use it every day. So use it for something more than just posting statuses about how much homework you have or instagramming a photo of what you had for lunch.
Use it for good, use it for change, and use it to make the world a better place for all of us.

Lastly, a bit of comic relief:

Thursday 13 March 2014

Thoughts on Negative Politics and Youth Participation

Recently, the majority of political news has been centered around secret trusts, undeclared donations, conflicts of interest, withheld information, and other non-policy issues. I find these sorts of stories very frustrating, because they don't lead to any progress on the issues that face our country or people every day. They're political attacks focused on individual politicians (whether from the opposing party or from the media), in an attempt to discredit the candidate. They attempt to influence voters minds and opinions of a candidate by making them a less attractive option at the voting booth. And while we will never be able to completely stop this, to me it highlights one of the biggest problems with politics.

The stereotype is that youth don't vote because they don't care about politics or what is happening around them. I mostly reject that premise; in my interactions with other young people everyone generally has a sense of what is going on, they understand what the issues facing the country are, and they usually have some ideas for how to fix it themselves as well. They might not know who all the MPs are or what political parties there are, but they want the country to continue to improve and become a better place in the future.

I think the youth vote makes the difference in the average NZ election - the majority of the rest of the population (>80%) votes, but they're also more likely to have developed their opinions to the extent that they are one a particular side of the political spectrum. Youth are, by and large, undecided swing voters. There are plenty of youth in political movements, but a lot of others don't necessarily have an opinion on which party they would vote for if they did turn up. This is why it's important for political parties to work at getting youth voters, because that's where the biggest gains can be made and is the smart place to invest their effort and resources. Once young people's opinions are shaped and formed, they're unlikely to change significantly in the future. They might switch parties but in general they stick to the same ideological side. There's a parallel with business marketing; banks know that people tend to stay with the same bank for their entire life, and hence make a huge effort to attract students with packages that probably cost the bank money in the short term, but will lead to life-long customers.

Research in the US shows that negative campaign ads can be effective in moderation, but a big part of the advertising environment in New Zealand is that we don't really have negative marketing in general. The most companies will do is say that they're "better than competitors" but fall short of naming those competitors with concrete examples, and this is encouraged in the Advertising Standards Authority codes. This a huge contrast with politics - there's mud slinging all the time and politicians are constantly taking pot shots at each other. It's more abrasive, and young people mostly don't like it very much. Parties try to make themselves electable based on policy, but there's just as much trying to make other parties unelectable by making them as unattractive as possible. It's something that we can't really take out of politics, but it hampers parties' abilities to attract young people to join their forces because conflict isn't attractive.

Political parties at the moment mostly try to get the youth vote mostly by trying to pander to them with policies that they think young people will agree with, such as interest-free student loans or alcohol/marijuana (de)regulation; things that (they think) young people care about right now in the short term. But for politics to be attractive to young people, it's more about changing the image of politics so that it's more positively framed, and making young people feel truly empowered and that their vote actually matters. Part of it is about making young people understand that voting isn't the only way they can influence the governance process as well - whether that's through select committee submissions, contacting their MPs, or otherwise, getting buy-in into the political system is how to get young people to participate and (at least) vote. 

Doing this doesn't necessarily encourage someone to vote for a particular party, it just gets them to vote at all, and that isn't necessarily a very good incentive for political parties to be part of that movement. In the US there is a definite bias among young people to be more left-wing, more in favour of the Democratic party, so it works in their favour to "get out the vote", but in NZ we seem to have a pretty even spread among young people, so there's always a chance that if you're Labour and encouraging an undecided to vote that they'll end up voting for National. It's also a matter of priorities for the parties - they don't have an infinite amount of effort and resources, so they have to choose their markets.

But at the end of the day, I feel that the negative politics hurts the overall image of NZ politics more than it helps, and this pushes prospective voters away. People like a good sledge now and again, but not when it is constantly in the news all the time. Pointing out the flaws of policies is important, but character assassinations are not. Phrasing politics more positively, focusing on policy, and playing the argument not the man (or woman) is critical to convincing more New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders, to head to the polls and make an informed, justified decision.

Meanwhile, from Vectorbelly:

Thursday 6 March 2014

#UoADebate Round-up

The University of Auckland Debating Society tonight hosted an election year debate featuring (from stage left to stage right) Colin Craig (Conservative), John Minto (Mana), Gareth Hughes (Green), Jamie-Lee Ross (National), Te Ururoa Flavell (Maori), Shane Jones (Labour), and Jamie Whyte (Act), and moderated by TV3's Patrick Gower. A packed auditorium of over 800 people heard about capital gains taxes, minimum wages, alcohol regulation, a bit of marijuana decriminalisation, approaches to tertiary education, and restructuring of university councils.
The debate was excellent at showing off the minor parties - giving all the candidates equal speaking time helped a lot. Jamie-Lee Ross was left mostly having to defend himself and the government, even though he tried to convince us all that "things are better under a National government." Shane Jones did what he does best, and told us plenty of endearing and charismatic stories but didn't actually answer many questions (and was caught out twice by Gower). Jamie Whyte did a great job at introducing himself to the crowd as an ideological liberal with a strong principled stance, and probably converted a couple of students in the process. Te Ururoa Flavell connected well with large swathes of the audience and wasn't afraid to take the hard line on social harms with a mostly student audience. Gareth Hughes as always played well as a young MP and students felt he genuinely understood our position, while not being afraid to take swipes at both the National and Labour parties. However, at the end of the night, I felt that two people had put in the best performance - Colin Craig and John Minto.

This surprising match made in Isengard was not without its hurdles. Colin Craig was late to the debate (due to severe traffic on the Harbour Bridge), badly gaffed up his opening statement by comparing politics to rugby and mangling the analogy, and faced low, low expectations from the crowd. Craig and Minto sat next to each other, even though they are on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. Straight away Minto had the attention of the crowd with statements on inequality, standing for the 99%, for the unemployed, and wanting to feed the kids (starting with decile 1-3 schools). Mana wants to make sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Under Mana, the living wage would be the minimum wage (i.e. $18.40/hr). A little dubious when he made the bold statement of "We will abolish GST", but overall rather inspiring. Craig agreed that we need to close tax loopholes, and Gower made a suggestion of a Mana-Conservative coalition.
But as Minto trailled off later in the evening, Colin Craig started hitting the right notes when it came to tertiary education. While some of the views were (as expected) controversial, it clearly struck a chord with much of the crowd. "I don't believe university is the right place for everyone to go... I've been a lecturer at university, and I've said "I think some of these kids should fail" and been overruled by the department because they're more interested in having bums in seats... Mass university education is not the right way to go." He also said that it is up to the universities to structure their own councils, and it should not be up to the government. At the end of the day, Craig and Minto, two people who many would have ridiculed and dismissed on the way in, walked out as players not to be underestimated. They showed that they were willing to celebrate their similarities in order to achieve progress, while also very clear that they had strong stances on issues. To only further highlight the differences, in the aftermath of the debate, Colin Craig was up the front with a long queue of people wanting photos as a car waited for him, while John Minto was spotted taking the bus home.

Some excellent quips and barbs were thrown around the auditorium, with Gower proving to be an excellent moderator and keeping the mood light and happy. Some of the better quotes of the evening:
- Gower on Ross: "Never trust a politician with two first names, because they don't know how to make a decision. Here's Jamie."
- Gower on Jones: "This guy needs no introduction, the scourge of the supermarkets! - I couldn't believe it because this guy's the porn king!"
- Gower on Flavell: "I call this man T-Flav." Flavell on Gower: "Good to see you've gotten rid of that stutter."
- Craig: "Politics is like rugby, the winner is the one with the most votes."
- Hughes on Craig: "I'm not going to talk about Colin today because I'm afraid he's going to sue me."
- Jones on Craig: "We understand why we had to wait for Colin, it's a long way to come from the moon."
- Whyte (clearly still quite alone in the party): "I shouldn't say we, because I haven't discussed this with anyone else in the party."
- Jones on Gower: "Every time I see a man whose face was made for radio, I think..." *swamped out by laughter*
- Minto on Whyte and Ross: "The two Jamies from the right [are] talking absolute bloody garbage"
- Craig: "I don't pay anyone the minimum wage because I think it's a little embarrassing."
- Flavell: "I don't know if we can always trust government statisticians."
- Craig: "I do pay tax on every dollar, and probably at a higher rate than yourself John [Minto]."
- Minto: "You can buy 3L of RTD in South Auckland for $20." *surprised interest from the audience* "Come up and I'll tell you where later."- Ross to Flavell: "Just remember you're part of the government."

More hilarity ensued with the questions:
"How much do you drink a week?"
- Jones: "Started in the Anglican church drinking the communion wine... so at least 2 bottles of red wine a week."
- Ross: "I'm boring when it comes to alcohol, I don't drink much myself but my wife makes up for it."
- Minto: "I am a very light social drinker now."
- Whyte: "I drink more now than I did when I was a student. I discovered it later in life and found out what I was missing out on."
- Craig: "I prefer red wine as well." Gower: "How many a week?" Craig: "It depends on the number of barbeques."

"Have you ever smoked a joint?"
- Craig: "Passive smoking might have come into it. It was everywhere in the quad."
- Minto: "Yes I have smoked a joint."
- Hughes: "I used to work for Greenpeace and sailed on the Rainbow Warrior. What do you guys think?"
- Ross: "No I haven't [ever smoked a joint]."
- Flavell: "I was in a rugby tour with Auckland University...There was so much smoking in the van I didn't have to do much more."
- Jones: "I can't remember... I'm from up in Kaitaia, so...I am not a smoker. But when you're a part of that youthful Kaitaia movement, you pick it up in the ether."
- Whyte: "I haven't smoked a joint."

But the most important message of the night was the second thing Patrick Gower said tonight:
"We should all vote, it doesn't matter which of these bloody buggers it is."