Fine Gael's #GE2020 campaign a case study in how NOT to use social media
Fine Gael's #GE2020 campaign will be treated as a case study in years to come.
Marketing students, political science students, communications students... All of them will have to take this module in How Not to Use Social Media 101.
Lesson one will focus on Fine Gael's strange opening salvo. Three days into the election campaign it came, monstrous, frightening, like a cross between The Purge and an Aphex Twin music video.
Actors (or Fine Gael staffers?) wearing Fianna Fáiler masks, banging on glass panels, looking through the rubbish, running around the place like monsters on the hunt for policies. Now, making Fianna Fáil look bad is easy, so easy it's practically a national pastime. Somehow, this video failed to do it. It just made Fine Gael look hallucinogenic.
The nadir came this weekend, when Leo Varadkar shared a video of his front-benchers all re-affirming their refusal to go into government with Sinn Féin. The idea was pretty simple. Ministers like Simon Harris, Eoghan Murphy, Paschal Donohoe and the rest of them looking into the camera and saying things like "No!", "Never!" and "No way, José!"
Sounds fine, right? Anybody who grew up in an era of television and prints ads probably wouldn't see a problem with this video.
But the denizens of the internet saw a red rag and a blank canvas.
See, Twitter allows users to take any video posted, strip away the existing caption and add their own. So what did we end up with? Video after video of Fine Gael frontbenchers saying 'NO NAY NEVER' beneath captions like "Can I have a hospital bed?" "Can I have affordable housing?" and "Are Fine Gael going to win the election?"
I will never go into government with Sinn Féin. I asked my team if they would and they answered unequivocally.
Micheál Martin cannot say the same about his front bench. pic.twitter.com/zEoKqpIgQO
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) February 1, 2020
Fine Gael then claimed the other parties who were mocking their video were breaking the Fair Play Pledge.
So let's spell this out. Fine Gael made a video based on the premise that they hate one of their political opponents more than anybody else does, and when their political opponents made fun of the video, Fine Gael said that wasn't very Fair Play Pledge of them.
One tweet last week promised an extra €10,595 per year for families of four where the parents each earn €50,000. Those figures apply to just 14% if the country... and not the kind of people who reign supreme on Twitter.
Yes, this is the kind of messaging that could play on certain radio programmes, where the audience demographics are made up of professional, relatively high-earning people.
Putting it on Twitter, which is essentially populated by students, freelancers, journalists, people who have a lot of free time during the day and all the high-ranking members of Ireland's unofficial online Politburo, was, and there is no other word for it, stupid.
Individual ministers have proved time and again that they don't know the terrain they're on, looking about as prepared for Twitter as someone going swimming with crocodiles while wearing nothing but a Steve Irwin hat, may he rest in peace.
Eoghan Murphy took more than 24 hours to issue a tweet confirming that he'd taken down posters from directly above where a homeless man suffered life-changing injuries. After that, Murphy promptly forgot that social media existed once more, and pictures emerged of the posters being re-erected in the exact same place.
Simon Coveney, on 31 January, simply tweeted: "It's BREXIT Day!" Fair enough, he's been dealing with the British government for years now, it was probably just a burst of relief. Still, it looked like it would have made more sense coming from Nigel Farage, so he would probably have been better advised just to scream into a pillow instead.
Paschal Donohue - what possessed him - posted a video of himself standing on soapbox and shouting into a microphone. Somebody dubbed over it with 'Mad World' by Gary Jules. Anyone unfamiliar with social media might not have seen that coming, but anyone on Twitter will see this as the most predictable outcome imaginable.
"Oh Paschal Donohoe put up a video on soapbox? Well, we're obviously going to put Mad World over it, right? Somebody's already on it? Great."
— Aindriú (@AindriuB) February 1, 2020
It has been suggested by some, who evidently wish that Ireland's political culture was a little bit more like House of Cards, that Fine Gael are doing this on purpose. It's a double-bluff. They're intentionally designing their online content to be so bad that it's shared everywhere and absorbed by everyone and in turn those people will vote for Fine Gael. Don't you see, guys? They want you to share it!
It hearkens back to the Tory party strategy during last year's British general election where, for example, they shared a policy announcement in Comic Sans, knowing that Twitter's weird font-stickler liberals would share it as evidence that the Conservatives were stupid. Only problem is that normal people don't care about font choice.
Similarly, they shared a picture of Jeremy Corbyn dressed as a big chicken in a mock-up KFC ad, calling him a coward. Was it a terrible meme? Yes, so all the meme-lords shared it as a good laugh. But in the UK, Corbyn was so unpopular that spreading the image "ironically" still hurt him. The Tories knew it would, so the Tories won.
Unfortunately, this theory of dezinformatsiya really only makes sense if you have any evidence that the supposed perpetrators have some idea what they're doing. In the case of Ireland's ruling party there is not one single, limp straw to clutch.
Fine Gael are now at 19% in the polls, behind both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. If they have been playing 4D chess, it seems appropriate to conclude that they have knocked over several of their pieces, and have probably lost a few of the smaller pieces up their nose.
There is a much simpler explanation staring us in the face: Fine Gael have screwed up this campaign on such a historical level that it will be added to the curriculum.