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UOW Knowledge Series: Special Edition | How people respond to law and governance in a crisis

Hear from Associate Professor Cassandra Sharp on social media engagement during crises.

00:05
well we're here today with dr cassandra sharp
00:08
who is an associate professor at uow's school of law
00:12
her research relates to understanding the motivations expectations and
00:16
values of individuals as they respond to law in key crisis moments
00:20
a very pertinent topic as we continue to navigate our way through the COVID-19
00:24
pandemic which has thrown the world into a state
00:28
of heightened panic disease and anxiety welcome cassandra
00:32
well i think it's safe to say that 2020 has been a year like no other
00:36
and we've all had to adapt to changing circumstances
00:40
and new laws that have quickly introduced to be strictly enforced
00:44
so generally speaking how do you think the public have responded to the
00:48
restrictions that were introduced during the crisis well i think apart
00:52
from the hiccups that we had at the beginning with the toilet paper
00:54
stockpiling and the grocery hoarding i think australians have adapted
00:59
reasonably well as much as we can i think that given the uncertainty
01:05
around the the virus spreading quickly around the globe
01:08
and also around community transmission in those early days
01:12
we've did we've done the best we can to adapt as quickly as possible
01:16
i think wherever there is a kind of a trust
01:20
in our governments and our law makers that
01:23
their actions are appropriate and working we feel like we can
01:27
relinquish some of our freedoms in those moments so wherever we have that trust
01:32
and confidence we feel that we can give up a few of our
01:35
freedoms but i think that when we start to doubt
01:40
the imposition of restrictions then we might be a bit more reluctant
01:45
if we if we don't see that this is a huge
01:48
public health risk to ourselves and our loved ones
01:52
then we might be a bit more reluctant to have our rights diminished
01:56
absolutely certainly been a big time of adapting to change and i guess we're all
02:01
just doing the best we can in these times that's right
02:03
so what do you think about the way breaches of restrictions such as say
02:07
sitting down in a public place or lying on a beach which i know in the early
02:11
days was commonly moved on by police how do you
02:14
think that was handled by law enforcement agencies
02:17
i think at the start there were concerns that there was a potential for police
02:22
to to be heavy-handed in the issuing of fines
02:25
particularly in those areas which might seem to us
02:28
quite frivolous in the early days but i think that's
02:32
always going to be the downside of discretionary power when there are new
02:36
directions or regulations that are put into place that
02:39
impact upon our everyday activities we want to have this awareness and
02:45
assurance that there's going to be consistency
02:48
in application um of those those restrictions and
02:52
and a guidance on how we're to behave i can give you a
02:55
a personal example of that actually we were as a family during lockdown out on
03:00
a bike ride and we had gone for about an hour and
03:04
then we stopped in a park to have our snacks and we were quite a
03:08
distance away from anyone else just enjoying that time together as a family
03:12
when a police officer doing the rounds came over and encouraged us to move on
03:17
with our snacks and sort of said you know you probably should be moving on
03:21
and it was he was quite lovely it was all
03:23
fine there wasn't any angst and he certainly didn't mention fines or
03:27
penalties but we had a conversation about how
03:30
it's a really awkward sort of moment for the police officers in that regard and i
03:34
think the swiftness of the way that these
03:38
restrictions came into being they had a really
03:41
difficult job and so i think that in the end
03:46
we have to recognize that they had to adjust uh
03:50
quickly to those changes and i think now they've kind of moved on there's a shift
03:53
in focus potentially to those blatant disregard for the rules
03:58
where um you know people are having large house parties or 200 people and so
04:02
on so i think there's been a bit of a shift in focus
04:04
what is the usual process for introducing
04:07
temporary changes to law so in australia to change any law or to introduce a law
04:12
it needs to go through a parliamentary process so this is whether it's state or
04:16
federal that process is usually involves a lot
04:20
of discussion and debate and consultation and a lot of time
04:26
spent discussing the the impact of the new changes or the new law
04:31
and uh and how it will actually come into being and so
04:34
it's a time-consuming process from parliamentary
04:37
um discussion to approval to royal assent that can sometimes take
04:42
weeks months or even years in some cases with the COVID situation the
04:49
changes to laws at both the federal and state level
04:52
came into being within 24 hours to that point of being enforceable
04:56
so i think we can see how quickly things can move in a national emergency but it
05:00
usually is a time consuming process wow that certainly is fast in the scheme
05:04
of things isn't it and um is it unusual for the enhanced
05:08
police powers to be introduced so rapidly i mean
05:11
you did touch on the fact that you know it was a 24-hour process but
05:14
is this an unusual circumstance would you say yes it is
05:17
relatively unusual and that's because these
05:21
kinds of amendments to the law usually take a lot of time it's a rigorous
05:24
debate process that's what the process the parliamentary process is designed to
05:29
do it's its whole purpose and so it is relatively unusual to be
05:33
that fast the last time that rapid changes or
05:37
introduction to law has occurred with respect to police power was back in
05:42
2014 with the government's 16 point plan with respect to combating
05:49
alcohol violence so you might remember the one punch laws
05:52
that came into being which allowed police officers to
05:57
conduct drug and alcohol testing on suspected offenders
06:01
and those amendments were brought in within a week from parliamentary process
06:06
to enforceability and so at the time those laws those amendments were seen to
06:12
be a knee-jerk response to public demand but yes generally speaking um it isn't
06:19
usual for these types of um amendments to be so fast do you think
06:23
that there was adequate publicity and about the constantly changing state
06:27
of the laws during the pandemic you know i think there was criticism uh
06:31
in the early days too about you know potentially conflicting
06:34
messages and people weren't sure about what it is they can and they can't do in
06:38
their everyday lives particularly when out and about um but
06:42
you know we live in an age that's at the technology age where the
06:45
opportunities to communicate and disseminate information
06:49
is limitless almost and so i think they've done the state government and
06:54
the federal government and department authorities have done a
06:58
very concerted effort to bring
07:02
those uh changes and information to the awareness of the public
07:06
i mean if you think about it each of those departments have websites
07:10
uh that they're constantly updating there have been media releases there's
07:14
been briefings there's been press statements there's been campaigns
07:18
across all the major news networks and television and radio
07:22
advertisements and social media hashtags have been
07:26
deployed to help with that communication like um
07:29
hashtag ospol and hashtag coronavirus australia
07:33
i was going to say i think if you didn't know about what was going on in the
07:36
world right now you would have been you know virtually living under a rock so it
07:40
was certainly all consuming when it first came about
07:44
wasn't it um and then you mentioned social media
07:46
hashtags what role did social media play in helping
07:50
communicate the changing laws do you think well so as i mentioned
07:53
not only did the governments and the department the health department and all
07:56
those authorities have websites that they communicated their
08:00
changing impacts on but they also have a very strong social media presence
08:06
most of those departments have a facebook page and also
08:10
either instagram twitter or even some of them have youtube
08:14
channels it's so accessible and i think that's the key
08:18
to communicating key changes or information
08:22
in a rapidly changing environment it is so accessible i mean most people
08:27
have any of those platforms on their phones in the palm of their hand
08:33
almost daily you know all the time every day
08:36
and so we have this opportunity to disseminate information
08:40
to a wide range of people thousands and thousands of people
08:43
very quickly it is an environment where if you think about
08:49
it the social distancing requirements
08:54
and the isolation of this pandemic actually stimulated dependence on social
09:01
media for information so isolation when we really get down to
09:05
it fuels our dependence on digital technology to provide the
09:10
information that we're so desperately seeking in
09:13
those moments and i think that that individuals really rely on all of those
09:18
different platforms to get that information
09:20
because we're we're really um struggling to deal with life in those
09:26
times and that is a way that we can bring comfort to ourselves and awareness
09:29
in those moments absolutely it really makes you wonder
09:32
how it would have been without social media isn't it when you cast your mind
09:35
back what more than 20 years or two even less
09:38
15 years ago that's right you wouldn't have had
09:40
this uh mechanism to disseminate such information that's right we're living in
09:44
a wonderful age very powerful yes so how does social media commentary
09:49
actually challenge or transform understanding of the law
09:52
in times of crisis so with the proliferation of social media use with
09:56
so many people using social media and if
09:59
you think about it facebook has a 2.5 million
10:04
users instagram and twitter has uh between them 1.5 million users
10:09
with that proliferation of so many people using social media it is a key
10:13
way to not only disseminate information
10:17
but to transform ideas about how we are responding
10:21
to the various activities that are being impacted by
10:26
government restrictions and government action and so
10:29
um the the nature of social media is actually to amplify and intensify
10:37
the urgency with which we will respond in these situations and it acts as this
10:42
kind of conduit to facilitating the way in which
10:46
we express ourselves in in these moments my research certainly
10:50
shows that in the times of a crisis or
10:54
these significant events individuals do take to social media to share with
10:59
others their concerns or their critique or
11:02
their their um their responses and reactions to to
11:06
various uh activities of our governing authorities
11:10
if you take for example the mask at the moment it's a hot topic
11:14
people are trying to decide is the ma is wearing a mask
11:18
a moral right is it a legal obligation should the law
11:21
mandate the use of a mask this kind of debate is being critiqued
11:25
and discussed on a rolling basis on social media and and
11:30
it allows for that to be um facilitated amongst a wide range of
11:36
people and so what lessons do you think the
11:38
governments can take away from the way people have responded to the virus shut
11:42
down and the way information was shared on
11:44
social media about the restrictions so i think the link between crisis and
11:50
threat and government policy has been a real
11:55
topic in the literature over the previous years and and i think that the
11:58
research does indicate that we or individuals in society do
12:04
believe that we live in a dangerous place and that it's the role of our
12:08
governments and the law to protect its citizens and to keep them
12:12
safe it's really crucial that our policymakers and our
12:16
governments understand the way that individuals and
12:20
communities will respond to their actions to their
12:25
decision-making in that in that kind of crisis or event or
12:29
moment and i think one of the things that it would
12:32
be important for governing authorities to recognize is
12:35
that social media provides this unprecedented access
12:39
to our community's views on the way in which they're operating and the
12:44
the work that they're doing and how that impacts upon our daily lives
12:48
so the impact of law on an individual and a community
12:52
can be interpreted by looking at social media comments
12:56
it's it's the it's the place where you can go and see
13:00
publicly what people are thinking and feeling and responding in that way
13:04
it's like an immediate survey of public without having to actually do a survey
13:08
in a sense yeah and if there is if there is panic
13:11
and confusion and uncertainty and distrust that's
13:14
percolating in the public consciousness then it's a real opportunity for the
13:18
government and authorities to kind of calm fears and to take action quickly
13:24
absolutely well i just have one more question for you cassandra
13:28
the world as we know it has changed forever and it's likely we'll be
13:32
managing restrictions for some time yet how could authorities work with the
13:37
public to achieve more widespread compliance
13:40
and best case scenario outcomes i think particularly as the pandemic has
13:44
progressed people are becoming mentally saturated
13:48
overwhelmed and potentially confused about where do
13:51
we stand now with various restrictions i think clear and decisive and
13:57
calm communication was really important i think that crisis like these provide
14:03
the paradoxical potential to either unite or to divide
14:09
australians and i think that tapping into that
14:13
from the government perspective is really important the way
14:16
in which they access and use social media
14:19
will be key to facilitating one of those particular polarizing
14:24
responses the prime minister several years ago in
14:28
relation to security in 2017 said that
14:33
the public wants their lawmakers and their government to put the safety
14:39
of their people first and to know that they're doing
14:42
that and i think this is this is really important legitimacy is
14:46
crucial for engendering trust in the australian
14:50
public and so i think that it's a really
14:53
important aspect for our governments to take on
14:57
board to take note of where people are at with their decision
15:02
making and to respond and to tailor their
15:05
response for that and i think one thing i've noticed
15:10
lately is that people are becoming more numb
15:12
to instruction and to statistics and i noticed that with the advertising
15:18
from our governing authorities in recent days
15:22
that there's been a bit of a shift a shift in gears from
15:25
from say the mind to the heart so there was an advertisement that ran
15:29
where instead of actually touting instruction it was
15:33
a family a mum and a dad talking about their daughter who was working on the
15:37
front line during this pandemic and so it's
15:39
speaking through story to that idea that we need to take care
15:43
of one another and we do it not just for ourselves but for others
15:46
and so that's potentially a way to tap into
15:49
speaking to the community where they're at
15:53
social media is as it engages the whole being
15:56
the whole human person and so i think it's good for governments to do that too
16:02
fantastic well cassandra that's been so insightful thank you so much for
16:05
speaking with me today and we look forward to hearing more
16:08
about this fascinating area as social media continues to take shape into the
16:16
future

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