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Dirty politics enabled by technology

02 Oct 2014

In the wake of the launch of Nicky Hager’s latest book, it has become apparent that ‘Dirty Politics’ is enabled in an unprecedented fashion by technology in general and social media in particular. And now, the ignominious entry of @tarnbabe67, behind which is David Cunliffe’s wife Karen Price, demonstrates that the game is played by the full political spectrum, driven by free (but potentially dangerous) services.

So who are the central players in the furore? There are those on the right, which include bloggers Cameron Slater, David Farrar and Jason Ede, who took a terrific beating at the hands of Hager. But surely WordPress, Twitter and Facebook aren’t only in the hands of these ‘dirty’ capitalists?

No indeed, as @tarnbabe67 demonstrated by joining the fray, burning briefly but brightly to add to Rawshark’s @whaledump Twitter account and attendant shenanigans. In laying bare what is likely the intimate details of Cunliffe’s dinner table conversations, @tarnbabe67 also seems to have shown up the former Labour leader as having zero understanding of the platform. By claiming he wasn’t in control of his account since the Christchurch East by-election, Cunliffe’s tweets since then have a distinct whiff of insincerity about them.

Meanwhile, though ‘attack blogger’ was framed by Nicky Hager and triumphant left wingers as a right-wing phenomenon, there is ample evidence that it is somewhat more universal. After all, the work of Martyn Bradbury, who has a penchant for describing Slater as ‘a far right wing hate speech merchant’, could be described in similar terms. With one notable difference: perhaps his trade in tough talk could be described as ‘far left wing etc etc’.

The lawyer who set up David Cunliffe’s secret leadership bid trust, Greg Presland, has form in this arena, too. A prolific blogger for the left at The Standard, writing under the non de guerre ‘mickysavage’, Presland is never far from an acerbic word or two. His sharp-tongued pseudonymous colleague LPRENT appears to be going on the attack, too, except the current target of ire is on the same side of the fence.

What social media has laid bare is just how technology further enables one of the oldest realities of the profession of journalism. People have agendas and they talk. In days gone by, that would be done in person, by handwritten note surreptitiously passed, on the phone or, more recently, by text.

The immediacy of email and online chat has accelerated, but not changed the fundamentals of the game. However, online services have added a fascinating new dimension: electronic communications leave a record (some of it painfully public, once the mask of anonymity falls away – just ask Ms Price). That leaves space for hackers like Rawshark and his paymaster to dig into gmail and Facebook accounts; let’s face it, we all say things in personal communications which could be damaging if made public. There’s a lesson in WhaleOil’s hack: make sure your cloud service passwords are really good.

What free services also do is give a voice to anyone. But whether or not just anyone should take up that opportunity is, of course, moot.

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