A range of politicians from across the New Zealand spectrum have valiantly agreed to read out brutal tweets. Here’s the video, and, below, Luke Sweeeney of the University of Auckland Public Policy Club explains why they produced it.
How did you hit upon the idea of NZ Politicians Read Mean Tweets?
At one of our exec meetings. We were trying to think of something really fun to do around the election and we just started throwing some crazy ideas out there to see what would stick – one of which was a “Mean Tweets” video. We’d seen some funny ones from overseas, especially Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets”, and we were surprised to see that it hadn’t really been done in New Zealand (at least with politicians). We anticipated that it would be a bit of a logistical nightmare two to three months out from an election, but we were keen to give it a go and here we are.
It’s funny, but you’re trying to convey something else at the same time, right?
Yeah there are some deeper themes we were trying to get across. I think often in an election, people can get a lot more vocal about the issues affecting them, which is a good thing and helps our democracy to function. But when that debate devolves into personal attacks and ‘trolling’, it can become really adversarial and destructive to finding consensus with people who think differently to us. It’s also important that we use our political voices not just in reacting to issues, but also by voting and making our government accountable to us. Twitter and other online mediums are powerful tools for communicating, but we should think about the ramifications of what we post. I think a lot of people whose tweets were included in the video would never think that the politicians they wrote about would ever see those tweets, let alone read them out on camera. It’s really easy to forget that politicians are people too and, just like us, can be really affected by nasty comments written about them – even if they don’t show it.
How keen or not were the MPs to take part?
We were extremely surprised at how keen everyone we contacted was to take part. We sent out a whole bunch of emails trying to gauge interest and not expecting much, but we were pretty overwhelmed with the response. We were stoked to get a clip from the prime minister right on the deadline, knowing how busy he must have been, and other parties leaders like James Shaw and Gareth Morgan were very engaged. We had really supportive and encouraging responses from Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters, but understandably their packed agenda prevented them from taking part.
Who chose the tweets, you or them?
We offered to choose the tweets, primarily because we wanted to save the politicians time and we knew we’d have a higher chance of success if we made it as easy as possible for them to participate. It was actually a really hard task narrowing down tweets that we could send – on the one hand, some were just too nasty to be included, and on the other, a lot of people had really respectful tweets that wouldn’t make for a very entertaining video. Funnily enough, I did get some feedback from some politicians saying the first lot I sent through were too soft, and to send through some harsher ones! On the whole, I think the tweets we included stuck the right balance.
What’s the Public Policy Club all about?
We’re a non-partisan political club at the University of Auckland that aims to involve students from all backgrounds in the education and development of political knowledge. We have a specific focus on increasing youth engagement in politics by encouraging and educating youth to discover their political voices. Part of that encouragement is promoting political discourse which is constructive and helping people forge meaningful discussions with others who may think differently to them. At the start of September, there were 250,000 young people in New Zealand who hadn’t enrolled to vote – that’s really concerning to us. We’d definitely encourage those people to enroll before Septem22 ber and have a look at some the issues that will affect them over the next few years. There are a lot of great policy tools out there, like the Spinoff’s Policy interactive tool, and we have a student content team that breaks down confusing policy into easy to understand infographics at peepnz.com. At the end of the day, it’s about having your voice heard and being a part of the democratic process – it’s just so important.