ZB

Govt spent $235K on Covid social media 'listening reports'

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 May 2022, 1:43pm
Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson. (Photo / File)
Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson. (Photo / File)

Govt spent $235K on Covid social media 'listening reports'

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 May 2022, 1:43pm

The Government spent more than $230,000 on nearly 100 social media listening reports during the pandemic. 

Act leader David Seymour said far from following science, the Government followed social media chatter to guide thinking on huge decisions such as MIQ and alert levels. 

"These may be the most expensive social media reports ever received by the New Zealand Government," Seymour said today. 

In a written Parliamentary question, Seymour asked Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins how much funding was spent on the so-called social listening reports. 

Hipkins said the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet commissioned reports from social media listening reports provider Annalect in April 2020 after the first national lockdown started. 

They were commissioned through OMD, the media buying agency for the Covid-19 response. 

Analysts used a tool called Brandwatch Consumer Research to observe major themes regarding the pandemic, analysing local social and digital news content. 

Act leader David Seymour says the reports show social media chatter and anxiety, rather than science alone, guided the Government's pandemic decision-making. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Hipkins said data analysed was already in the public arena from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other local blogs and forums. 

"Analysis was undertaken on the most current topics relating to Covid-19, for example: setting changes, new variants, vaccinations and health behaviours," Hipkins wrote. 

"It also included analysis on issues of ongoing concern to the response, such as mental health and domestic violence," he added. 

DPMC spent $133,894.50 for 58 social media analysis reports for the 2020/21 financial year, and $100,799.00 for 92 reports in the following financial year, up to April 2022. 

Hipkins said the reports let the Government provide "agile and adapt communications" to address people's questions and concerns. 

Seymour said the only science involved here was political science. 

"We know that was early as October, Ashley Bloomfield had advised MIQ made no sense, and they should open up the border." 

In November, director-general of health Dr Bloomfield agreed with another top health official that MIQ was unjustified for most returnees. 

"What it tells us is the Government claimed to be listening to the science. And yet every week it was getting top-shelf analysis of people's social media conversations to guide its response, for example, to alert level changes," Seymour said. 

"MIQ caused untold human misery and carried on well past its use-by date," he added. 

"We now know the Government was told MIQ wasn't necessary from November, did they keep it based on social media listening?" 

He said the spending suggested the Government took into account fearful social media users, rather than science, when making big pandemic response decisions.