INDEPENDENT NEWS

Facebook ‘Listening’ Costs Taxpayer Quarter Of A Million

Published: Thu 12 May 2022 01:33 PM
“The Government spent almost a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayers money monitoring your social media to form its Covid response,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.
“Last week it was revealed a company commissioned by the Government has been monitoring social media comments about the Covid-19 response for almost two years, reporting back every four days.
“Now ACT can reveal it cost Kiwis $234,693.50. New Zealanders are doing it tough through this cost of living crisis. While Kiwi families are tightening their belts, it’s clear the Government isn’t doing the same.
“We have been told that the Jacinda Ardern ‘followed the science’ through the COVID pandemic but, as time goes on, we learn it was actually the political science.
“MIQ caused untold human misery and carried on well past its use-by date. We now know the Government was told MIQ wasn’t necessary from November, did they keep it based on social media listening?
“ACT pointed out at the time that if people who’d tested positive for COVID were able to isolate at home, it made no sense for people arriving from overseas to suffer MIQ. It was totally unfair for the thousands who missed out on a spot and couldn’t even do that.
“One can only suspect the Government kept MIQ for months of extra misery because they thought doing the right thing would be unpopular. It’s pathetic.
“If the Government ignored public health advice and kept MIQ based on social media listening, then what was the real purpose of social media listening? Was it to reinforce the public health response, or protect Labour’s political interests?
“Throughout the pandemic, ACT has released comprehensive policy papers based on balancing all aspects of human wellbeing. That is what the Government should have been balancing, but they did not. It appears their main priority was Labour’s political wellbeing.
“It’s time for the Government to stop this wasteful spending, it can start by following ACT’s Alternative Budget for Real Change that would reduce wasteful spending by $5.3 billion in 2023.”
The WPQ can be found here:
Portfolio: COVID-19 Response (Hon Chris Hipkins)
Question: How much funding has Annalect received to date, if any, to provide Social Listening Reports?
Reply: I am advised that the Annalect reports were first commissioned by the Department of the Prime Minster and Cabinet (DPMC) in April 2020 following the first national lockdown. They were commissioned through OMD, the media buying agency for the COVID-19 response. DPMC did not contract Annalect directly during 2020 or 2021. In compiling these reports, analysts used the tool Brandwatch Consumer Research to observe prominent themes regarding the COVID-19 Response, analysing social and digital news content on public channels in New Zealand. The data analysed is already available in the public arena. It is from publicly visible posts and comments on public Facebook pages, Twitter, Reddit and other public blogs and forums in New Zealand. No names were included in the reporting compiled by Annalect to ensure the privacy of those commenting. The only very occasional exception might be if the comment was made by a recognised expert in a public forum. All work was done in New Zealand, by New Zealand-based analysts. Analysis was undertaken on the most current topics relating to COVID-19, for example: setting changes, new variants, vaccinations and health behaviours. It also included analysis on issues of ongoing concern to the response, such as mental health and domestic violence. As the pandemic response evolved, tools such as this enabled the COVID-19 Group to be agile and adapt communications to address the questions and concerns of New Zealanders. I am advised that the analysis compiled by Annalect has also helped measure the success of the Unite against COVID-19 communications and public information campaign as it sought to keep New Zealanders informed through the different phases of the response. It provided valuable insights into the impact of pandemic restrictions, New Zealanders’ acceptance of them and their willingness to carry out COVID-19 related health behaviours. These insights have been important in ensuring the safety of our communities and maintaining the public trust that is required for an effective response. It enabled the COVID-19 Group to identify if there were gaps in public understanding of announcements and restrictions so tailored communications could be developed to meet those needs. I am advised that DPMC incurred expenses of $133,894.50 for the procurement of 58 social media analysis reports for the 2020/21 financial year, and $100,799.00 for the procurement of 92 reports in the current financial year as at April 2022. DPMC has now stopped commissioning Annalect reports.

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