On Monday night, Western Australian Senator Scott Ludlam stood in front of a nearly empty Senate and delivered an eloquent, fearless and utterly scathing rebuke of the Abbott government.
Yet the Greens senator, who has the potential to lose his seat when WA returns to the polls for a re-run in four weeks’ time, was keenly aware that his invitation for Tony Abbott to visit the state -- “because every time you open your mouth, the Green vote goes up” -- would, with a little social media savvy, echo far beyond the beige walls of the bare chamber.
As is the nature of a viral campaign, it has taken a few days, but Ludlam has successfully leveraged his strong social media presence -- he boasts nearly 18,000 Twitter followers and more than 16,000 Facebook page likes at the time of writing -- to ensure his bid for re-election is heard loud and clear.
In the space of two days, YouTube views of Ludlam's speech more than doubled to nearly 280,000. In just one hour today, the video clocked up 10,000 views.
While Ludlam's address has already made headlines across international news outlets including The Huffington Post and The International Business Times’ UK edition, the mainstream Australian media has so far paid it little attention. The Guardian, perhaps unsurprisingly, lent the speech some prominence -- but not until two days after the fact (Wednesday afternoon). The Herald Sun gave it a run online -- also yesterday afternoon -- but the story failed to make it into today's print edition.
It is worth drawing a parallel here with events in October 2012, when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered her now famous ‘misogyny speech’ -- again, directed at Tony Abbott -- in the Australian House of Representatives.
The video of Gillard’s speech went gangbusters online at the time, yet the Canberra press gallery failed to give it much thought. It wasn’t until international press such as The Guardian (which hadn’t yet launched its Australian edition) and The Huffington Post gave it some weight that things really began to take off back home.
Ludlam has kept the ball rolling on his Senate campaign via a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread (where members can interview guest posters, often celebrities). Launched last night, the thread garnered over 1000 comments, with participants swiftly ranking it near the top of the AMA hompage.
While he referred participants to Monday’s speech, Ludlam was keen to emphasise his desire to give "the prominence it deserves" to the issue of digital rights in the coming half-Senate election.
The Greens senator has been one of the most erudite and vocal opponents of the Coalition’s national broadband network. He has staked out his territory and made it very clear he won’t back down, and the results of the April 5 ballot may have great ramifications for how the NBN rollout continues.
It makes perfect sense, then, for Ludlam to look to the internet to bolster his support base. In Monday’s speech, slamming Abbott’s “premeditated destruction” of the NBN and Attorney-General George Brandis’ “degrading capitulation to the surveillance state”, he points to the “geeks and coders, network engineers and gamers who would never have voted Green in a million years without the blundering and technically illiterate assistance of your [Tony Abbott] leadership team. For this, I can only thank you.”
Ludlam’s profile may be somewhat smaller than Julia Gillard’s, but his Klout score is decent, and as far as election campaigns and the curious dynamic between social and mainstream media go, it’s early days.