Dog-whistling in the Twitterverse

Issue 
From PM Julia Gillard's Twitter account.

Twitter, for the few who may not know, is a social networking internet service that enables its users to send and read other users' messages (tweets) of up to 140 characters.

Increasingly, politicians are using Twitter as part of their (managed) media work.

Shortly after becoming prime minister, Julia Gillard joined the Twitterverse.

“1.54PM Jul 4: I’ve decided it’s time to take the Twitter plunge! Hopefully I’ll master it. JG.”

By her second Tweet, she (or perhaps a specially assigned member of her staff) was behaving like a seasoned Tweeting politician.

“12.15PM, Jul 5: It has been a morning of reflection. My thoughts are with all the men and women of our military, their families and their sacrifices. JG.”

Like all Gillard's speeches as PM, this was carefully worded to indicate her new socially and politically conservative image. Her next Tweets pressed the same buttons even harder.

“Jul 7: I met the border patrol team on HMAS Broome and their Commander Kylie today. They’re securing our borders. That’s my aim too. JG.”

Dog-whistle politics means using language that is coded to mean one thing to most people, but has a different meaning for a subgroup you’re targeting.

Gillard’s target audience is people in Western Sydney, regional Queensland and Western Australia who feel “anxiety and indeed fears ... when they see boats intercepted”.

But the PM should also think of the support she is losing. One wit tweeted:

“If @juliagillard mimics Abbott on refugees she'll lose a gen 2the Greens faster than she got followers on twitter.”

Sharon Firebrace, Indigenous activist and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for Victoria, described the political moment we are at in Australia today as "another chapter in our country's racist shame".

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