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Nelson urges caution on Facebook, Twitter

Paul Smith (via AFR) | April 23, 2013
Australian War Memorial director and former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson believes technology is wonderful if it helps people add value to their personal and working lives – such as enabling far-flung communities to connect virtually with Anzac Day. But too often, he says, technology rules us.

Nelson bemoans Facebook diplomacy risks and politicians’ Twitter addiction

Brendan Nelson, director of the Australian War Memorial, says technology will help people in far-flung communities connect with Anzac Day ceremonies. Photo: Sean Davey

Many politicians wax lyrical about the wonders of social media and the ability of the various platforms to connect them more closely with those who elect them - but don't tell that to former Liberal leader and director of the Australian War Memorial Brendan Nelson.

The doctor, who made his way to the top echelons of Australian politics before moving on to an ambassadorial role, has seen first-hand the potential risks of social media and the futility of dealing with Facebook when trying to rectify damaging posts.

Around the time of his posting to Belgium, Luxembourg, NATO and the European Union, Nelson says he took the decision not to create his own Facebook page or Twitter account. However, he was alerted by friends to a Facebook account created and managed by an imposter on his behalf.

The online Nelson was making comments about Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, which the real Nelson describes as "pretty lame". But what worried him most was the fact that he knew people were interacting with the fake account, in the belief that it was him.

"I wrote to Facebook in the United States, specifically drawing it to their attention and asking that it be removed. When I was ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, NATO and the EU, you can imagine the type of issues I was dealing with, and I was concerned about the potential for it to cause damage to the reputation of the country," Nelson recalls.

"But even in my position of relative official seniority, I wasn't able to do ­anything about it. I got no response at all. I would issue a warning to anyone that this kind of thing can happen and Facebook is frankly the least responsive organisation I have ever dealt with."

Nelson says that despite getting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and intelligence security agencies to look at his problem, there was nothing they could do about it.

Nelson's career has spanned an era in which technology has become ever more pervasive. He says he never learned how to use a computer until the early 1990s, when it became essential for work.

While it would be unfair to describe him as anti-technology, Nelson says he became increasingly concerned about how the 24-hour connection to devices dilutes the quality of political work and discussion conducted. For him, technology is a tool to help get things done, not a constant companion.


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