Web sites personalise politics

WITH Australia’s political parties fighting another federal election campaign we can expect to see the Internet emerge as a powerful electioneering weapon.

Continuing with the war analogy, it appears Labor fired the opening shot last week with the launch of its Political Big Brother website, modelled on Channel Ten’s popular Big Brother program. Visitors to the site have the chance to vote out one of 12 Coalition ministers, with the votes tallied on Wednesday and Saturday for six weeks.

The ALP registered the domain name for the campaign and enlisted Massive, the creators of the original Big Brother website, to develop the site.

The website offers a retirement package in one of Minister for Aged Care Bronwyn Bishop’s “top quality” nursing homes for the winner.

Understandably, the Coalition has not seen the humour in the stunt. Treasurer Peter Costello said an election was a serious event and a possible change in government had serious implications.

“I think we should be using the Internet largely as an information tool rather than an entertainment medium,” he said.

Internet Industry Association chief executive Peter Coroneos is not surprised the major parties are going beyond basic brochure-style websites for the election campaign.

“The parties are coming to recognise that the Net is a powerful way to communicate to constit-uents,” Mr Coroneos said.

“It is our strong belief that Australian Internet users will be influenced by how the political parties respond to issues that we say are fundamental to our nation’s future and that of our children. As a political tool, the medium has arrived.

“You no longer need to be a media baron or spend a king’s ransom to reach millions of people. But you do need to have a clear message and a strategy on how you want people to react. Targeted, customised messages can be delivered cheaply on the Net in a number of interesting ways, without resorting to spam.”

The ALP seems to have aimed for that with its Political Big Brother site and its core ALP website. The splash page features attention-grabbing headlines and links disguised as flashy banner ads.

The Liberal Party website employs a more serious, corporate tone and has “Doing the things that need to be done” as its slogan.

Perhaps in a bid to attract the attention of disenfranchised youth voters, the Democrats site has been revamped with the traditional yellow and green colours replaced by striking, if crudely designed, splash page featuring a photo of leader Natasha Stott-Despoja and the title “change politics”.

However, it remains to be seen if voters, particularly the net savvy 18 to 25 years age group, are willing to trust the parties’ online messages.

A recent Democrats survey found only 3 per cent of 15 to 20-year olds trusted politicians.

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