In an election campaign described as ‘boring’ so far, there’s finally been an earthquake.
It came in the form of the announcement on Sunday that the WA Liberal Party had reached a preference deal with One Nation for the party to preference the Liberals in the Lower House in the WA Election. In return, Liberal Party will direct preferences to One Nation in the Upper House.
The news prompted an immediate spike of interest on social media channels in conversations about One Nation or its leader, Pauline Hanson:
We counted 17,988 public mentions on social channels of One Nation during the past week, reaching 19,926,318 accounts. At the peak on Sunday and Monday, 200 people were talking about the issue every hour.
As with many breaking news stories, reaction starts in neutral ground (this thing has happened) and shifts over time as commentators buy in.
Here’s the timeline of public social mentions related to One Nation from when the news broke on Sunday morning. 11am is to the left of the graphic, there’s a lull around midday and then activity picks up again.
Blue circles represent neutral takes on the story, red are negative and green are positive. The size of each circle shows how influential that post or tweet was.
You can see that at this point, the story is pretty mixed. A few big neutral articles, mainly those by the ABC and other traditional outlets, are driving the conversation.
But jump forward to yesterday, and you can see the discussion has changed. Now it is being driven not by the announcement but by reaction.
There are members of the Liberal National coalition nationally and at a state level who are irate about the deal. There are One Nation candidates vowing to ignore it. Pauline Hanson is telling candidates who disagree to quit and run as independents.
And there are plenty of people hoping to tie any outrageous comments by One Nation candidates to Colin Barnett.
Now fewer people are engaging, but those people are much, much angrier. Neutral comments have tailed off and have been replaced by those condemning the deal for whatever reason.
Some of the responses that are getting the most traction come from politicians themselves — in fact, all sides of politics have jumped into the fray.
After Mr Barnett was reported telling The West Australian that former Prime Minister John Howard would approve of the preference deal, he got a sharp response from one of his own MPs, @Phil_Edman.
Although Mr Edman’s tweet only got a few retweets when first published, it was helpfully pushed along by the WA Labor Party who thought it deserved a broader audience.
— WA Labor (@walabor) February 14, 2017
Alannah MacTiernan, the former Labor Minister hoping to return to WA Parliament, also got in a widely retweeted dig at the deal not aimed at Mr Barnett but at Ms Hanson.
Pauline Hanson a complete sell-out : Barnett is the ultimate political elite she rails against but she’s backing him: please explain!
— Alannah MacTiernan (@AlannahMac) February 12, 2017
Greens Senator Scott Ludlum was quick to tie the opinions of One Nation’s Bateman candidate (who says she fears ‘Nazi mind control’ techniques are being used by the LGBTI community) to Mr Barnett.
— Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) February 14, 2017
Finally, The Nationals at a state level have remained publicly calm about being jilted for preferences (while not reacting as calmly at the federal level). Here’s their very measured response, based on an interview with ABC Radio.
While the tone was calm, the Nats have since announced they will preference the Greens over the Liberal Party in WA’s Upper House. It’s a strategy straight from Theodore Roosevelt: speak quietly, and carry a big stick.