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Political sensation in an Instagram

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BRISBANE -- The prime ministerial selfie, the tweets and the 106,000 likes on his Facebook mark Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as the social-media standout in Australia's 2013 election campaign.

But an intriguing question has arisen Down Under about politics in the Internet age.

Is all this silicon-inspired silliness a leftist plot? Is Twitter merely a cute name for a cabal of Commies?

Kevin Rudd, the prime minister heading the ruling centre-left Australian Labor Party, is the undisputed king of the kids when it comes to communicating his message to the rising Internet generation, many of whom are casting their first vote on Sept. 7.

With the poll heading south this week, the hysteria Rudd whipped up in the Wi-Fi generation during his now-legendary Kevin 07 election campaign seems as distant as last month's YouTube sensation.

Rudd was dumped by his party not three years after his 2007 victory but after being reinstated as prime minister in June his social-media wayfaring reached new heights.

In July, he shot off an Instagram "selfie'' to about 1.4 million Twitter followers after cutting himself shaving.

Winston Churchill may have done the same had found himself living in an age of global communication. But it's likely the Noble prize-winning author would have accompanied the post with an ironic yet insightful quote, perhaps lifted from Shakespeare.

"Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course,'' would have doubtless unleashed a Twitter-troll inspired storm of abuse at a pretentious politician.

But at least some voters could find comfort in the knowledge they were not being led by one of those gormless souls who employ the trivialities of life in pitiful attempts to attract a like on a Facebook page.

Rudd's lustful embrace of social media is in stark contrast to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's wary peck on the cheek to a medium he's never been entirely comfortable with.

The man who once described himself as "no tech-head'' tweets and maintains a Facebook page but his postings and messaging are no match for Rudd's efforts.

The Labor Party, facing the polls two weeks this Saturday, has also reportedly recruited Barack Obama's "digital attack'' dogs who oversaw the U.S. president's stunning success in two consecutive elections.

Labor's embrace of the Internet and the Conservative opposition's wariness has helped give rise to a novel theory: Twitter is a leftist lair.

Andrew Bolt, Australia's most widely circulated newspaper columnist, ventilated his suspicions on Wednesday with a tirade against a medium he insists "skews hard to the left.''

It's a long bow, given the democratic nature of Twitter, whose central appeal is giving free rein to all views minus the censor of an editor.

But Bolt, who cheerily describes himself as "The Great Satan of Conservatism,'' has for many years provided the nation with entertaining denunciations of the left, which have earned him a large and enthusiastic following, and his observations are rarely ignored.

Bolt insists there are character traits emerging on Twitter peculiar to a side of politics he has little time for.

"Maybe it's the relative youth of tweeters and the anonymity of many,'' Bolt wrote. "Maybe it's because hate tends to sell best in the look-at-me Twittersphere.''

The outspoken columnist predicts Labor's too-tight embrace of social media had led it up what older Australians might call "a dry gully.''

He suspects Labor has mistaken integrated circuits for the real world, and will pay dearly for its error when Australia goes to the polls.


Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2013 A13

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