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Yes, Alexander Downer, politics and nation-building has changed

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Former Liberal Leader Alexander Downer declared his family as historical "nation-builders" in the lead up to the Mayo by-election (ScreenShot via YouTube)

Following his daughter Georgina's defeat in the Mayo by-election, perhaps the message for Alexander Downer is that nepotism and privilege are no longer enough in the age of social media, writes Jacinta Coelho.

THE LEVEL OF "ABUSE" or "hatred" towards politicians has never changed, but the platforms in which it is conducted has. 

Rebekha Sharkie won the by-election for the seat of Mayo on 29 July 2018. The Liberal candidate Georgina Downer conceded.

The traditionally "safe Liberal seat" is now held by Nick Xenophon's party despite several attempts from the Liberal National Party to reclaim it. Some of the attempts included bringing in former PM John Howard, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (who originated from the Adelaide Hills area) and, of course, her staunchest supporter — father and former politician Alexander Downer (who also held the seat of Mayo when he was in office).

Another staunch supporter of Georgina Downer was none other than her mother, Nicky Downer, who posted online support, stating that Georgina was 'most suited to the role' not 'just because it was her daughter.' Yes, Mrs Downer, the people of Mayo believe you are an impartial judge in this equation.

The outrage surrounding the by-election was vocalised by Alexander Downer, who slammed Rebekha Sharkie's supporters.

He believes things have changed since he was in politics, stating:

"We are Adelaide Hills people and been in politics here for decades and, through multiple elections, never come across such abuse."

He went on to say that Sharkie supporters have brought "hate" to the district and must be "new arrivals". His wife, Nicky Downer, was also shocked by the level of abuse she received simply for "stating her views". She claimed that she had "no idea" about the intolerance. 

Alexander Downer is correct. 

Politics has changed since he was in office, but not in the way he thinks. 

Social media has given a platform to voters to voice their concerns, given politicians an idea of the public's response to them and occasionally, to promote smear campaigns or hate campaigns, this has been evident with the U.S. election.

Smear and hate campaigns have been fundamental to politics for as long as politics has been around. Mr Downer may need a wake-up call if he thinks that the level of abuse has changed. The level of "abuse" or "hatred" towards politicians has never changed, but the platforms on which people conduct it has. 

Social media has played a massive role in elections and one from which politicians – with Georgina Downer being no exception – have benefited. Georgina Downer has a Facebook page that shows her policies and gives her a way to engage with her voters. 

Social media is a double-edged sword. With the same amount of adoration, comes hatred. Georgina Downer says she closed her Twitter account due to "trolls". This is modern politics. Hate comes from both sides. It is not exclusive to the left or right. 

One could argue that no one should have to put up with abuse but unfortunately, political life is not exempt from abuse — politicians are fair game. Even for the Downers, who have come from a long life of privilege and nepotism. Alexander Downer's parents were involved in political life and the aristocracy. This bubble most likely has kept them somewhat away from public abuse. At least, before social media came around. 

So, yes, things have changed for Alexander Downer. The constituents in Mayo have wised up and have chosen politicians based on their policies.

Perhaps the lesson to be learnt here is that you cannot rely solely on nepotism and privilege to get what you want.

You can follow Jacinta Coelho on Twitter @jacintacoelho8.

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