If you’re one of the SRC’s two thousand odd Facebook followers, you may have noticed a shift in the tone of the SRC’s Facebook content since Grassroots candidate Imogen Grant was elected as President late last year.
The SRC’s new tone online could broadly be described as ‘radical’. Under Grant, the SRC has declared its support for Lorde’s participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It has also cheered on activist Tarneen Onus-WIlliams, who sparked controversy at a 2018 Invasion Day rally by telling a crowd in Melbourne “Fuck Australia, hope it burns to the ground.” Other examples include posts condemning the ABC (for pandering to ASIO), slamming Scott Morrison (for conspiring with ASIO) and mocking Christopher Pyne’s penis size (which has nothing to do with ASIO, but imagine if it did).
The SRC has also caused controversy by posting a criticism of ‘elite’ high-achieving Dalyell Scholars whilst questioning USyd’s lack of support for low-SES students. At Christmas last year, the SRC provoked concern from anti-communist students by wishing its followers the Leninist season’s greeting of “peace, land and bread”.
So, why might the SRC adopt this social media strategy?
“The SRC has previously not done enough to engage students who want to become politically active around issues affecting them,” Grant told Honi.
Grant said that, as the “only office bearer who is able to make comments on behalf of the SRC,” her aim is to fulfil the progressive “mandate upon which [she] was elected,” by speaking “about issues of sexual assault on campus, cuts to the higher education sector, Aboriginal deaths in custody, the plight of Palestinians”.
This strategy seems to be successful — engagement has increased on some posts, and Grant adds that the SRC’s “collectives have launched incredible campaigns [and] previously inactive departments are flourishing”.
The SRC’s social media strategy may be inspired by concepts from political science: Grant may be aiming to shift the outer limit of the Overton Window — the range of ideas in a political space that are acceptable. By promoting ‘radical’ perspectives, the SRC may gradually normalise the discussion of and belief in similar, if less radical, ideas. Eventually, through ongoing media activity, the Overton Window may shift towards Grant’s end of the political spectrum, leaving left-wing perspectives more acceptable than right-wing ones.
The SRC’s social media strategy has not been well-received in some circles. Some students have provided Honi with feedback on this matter, ranging from disappointment at seeing the SRC celebrate the death of Captain James Cook, to concerns that the SRC’s social media strategy “doesn’t engage people who wouldn’t otherwise search up [the] SRC” on Facebook.
Student politicians have also weighed in: USU board director Vanessa Song criticised the SRC’s Leninist Christmas post by noting: “Half my family were killed because they were intellectuals in a communist regime.”
The ramifications of this aren’t limited to Song or the students who gave feedback to Honi.
It is likely that students who are offended by the SRC won’t engage with it. Alienated students may well disengage from the SRC’s advocacy for students and its essential student services. A lack of engagement with the SRC has already impacted some services this year: the SRC’s second-hand bookshop is set to close around Week 3 of this semester.
Grant was quick to assure Honi that “the casework and legal teams are currently running at capacity.” Even so, she rejects the idea that services are all the SRC should focus on, stating that there is “no point to a representative body that does not advocate for the rights of students beyond services.”
This debate covers ideologically contested ground, but one thing is clear: in an age where turnout at SRC elections barely scrapes fifteen per cent, the SRC is facing a struggle for relevance. Is the adoption of a radical online presence the solution, or will it lead to further decline?
Only time will tell.