8 things we learned from @RealMarkLatham

1) If there’s an internet mystery, who ya gonna call?

Mark Di Stefano from Buzzfeed is the answer. The former ABC journo is fast becoming the nation’s leading internet detective, whether he’s trying to ascertain the veracity of an abusive Twitter account or identify the genius who drew those legendary DJ headphones on John Howard (caution – this link features language that is NSFW, but that is very amusing when not at work).

Connecting @RealMarkLatham’s tweets to material appearing in subsequent AFR columns was revealing, but finding a link between the account and Latham’s public email address was a masterstroke of internet-era sleuthing.

His work has been called a “social media campaign” by The Australian’s Sharri Markson, but it could be more accurately described as investigative journalism.

2) As Taylor said, haters gonna hate

Sorry, Paul Keating – Mark Latham is Australia’s most prodigious hater. His column, and the @RealMarkLatham account that’s allegedly his (though this is denied), have repeatedly pummelled a wide range of targets – working mums, transgender military officers, people with depression, and not one but two Australians of the Year.

Among his list of targets, you won’t find many of his fellow white, heterosexual men, with Peter FitzSimons a notable exception – but I’m sure he’d say that’s because decent Aussie blokes aren’t among the privileged beneficiaries of political correctness.

I’m always perplexed when people look at contemporary Australia and perceive white straight blokes like Latham (and me) as the underdogs, but presumably we media types are too busy swigging lattes to understand real Australia.

3) Even someone who was nearly prime minister can rail against ‘elites’

There are plenty of people in privileged positions who rail constantly against the straw men and women they perceive to wield the real power in Australian public life. Some prominent commentators simultaneously rail against these ‘elites’ in their columns, on top-rating radio stations, and on television.

But the enormous chip on Mark Latham’s shoulder is perhaps unique in Australian public life. Others may see him as a white, male, straight University of Sydney graduate who rose to the top of the nation’s oldest political party and consequently enjoys a generous parliamentary pension and, until recently, a columnist’s income to boot. Whereas Latham views himself as a Real Australian from the Western Suburbs who tells it like it is, unadorned by the silly political correctness of inner-city types who don’t have access to the rich seam of Genuine Australianness that flows right through his dinkum Aussie backyard.

In his mind, he’s the voice of suburban Australia:

The most telling initial sign, I thought, that @RealMarkLatham was the actual guy was the first word in the account’s Twitter bio – “Outsider”. It’s a fairly extraordinary self-perception for someone who nearly ran the country and until recently wrote for a newspaper that costs $780 per year to read, but identity contradictions like these have always defined Latham.

You can say one thing of his mentor and predecessor as Member for Werriwa, Gough Whitlam – nobody could accuse him of claiming to be an ordinary Aussie.

4) Dubious tweets are worse than dubious columns

Latham resigned, the story goes – but before that happened, he and the AFR withstood months of sustained criticism (and at least one lawsuit) before he was linked to these tweets. What’s peculiar about this is that his column was far more prominent than a Twitter account that only ever had a smattering of followers, and contained some of the same material.

Or could it be that Latham’s falling out with the Financial Review was the realisation that he might have been giving away for free on Twitter the same zingers about Tara Moss’ Facebook page that he was serving up in his premium-priced, paywalled-to-the-hilt columns?

5) High-profile women can complain all they like, but you don’t want to offend the sponsors

Is it a coincidence that Latham’s departure follows Westpac, which sponsors the 100 Women of Influence Awards with the AFR, expressing concern about him? Buzzfeed had an exclusive here, too, publishing an email from Westpac, sent last Thursday, that agreed Latham’s language was “derogatory and offensive”.

The Fin acknowledged the issue in its announcement as follows: “Some feminist websites and activists have campaigned against Mr Latham’s columns, including by complaining to Westpac, which presents the successful Women of Influence awards with the Financial Review.”

It doesn’t mention the bank’s response.

6) Yet again, aggression has overwhelmed Latham’s gifts

Once upon a time Mark Latham was seen as Labor’s leading Third Way intellectual, able to fuse scholarly economic insight with the social values of the middle Australia from whence he came. But then there were incidents like that notorious, allegedly election-losing handshake which cemented a public perception of bullying hardly helped by the colourful stories of cabbies and broken arms.

The party trusted him to lead them forward, and Latham was ahead in the polls for a long period before the 2004 election. Ultimately, he led them to a rout that gave the Coalition control of the Senate.

The Latham Diaries similarly veered between powerfully frank insider (cf “Outsider”) insights into the political process and extraordinary fits of bile, but the attacks in his AFR columns and on Twitter have been jaw-dropping. It’s one thing to go in hard on fellow politicians, but the attacks on Rosie Batty, whose story broke the nation’s heart, were simply extraordinary.

Latham has at times offered telling insights into the problems with the Labor Party in particular, but it generally isn’t long before things get heated.

7) Mark Latham apparently has a friend

What’s more, according to the reputable source @RealMarkLatham, this friend, Mitch Carter, actually ran the @RealMarkLatham account:

What a top bloke!

As Di Stefano pointed out, he must have been a particularly top bloke to supply “Lathos” with so many choice quotes that later made it into his column. And his generosity in running the account despite it being linked to Latham’s personal email address is also impressive.

No doubt as you read this, Mitch is shouting “Lathos” heaps of beers this week while he complains about how “Buzzfed wankers” (sic) and “bourgeois left feminist” women robbed him of his column.

8) For the umpteenth time, social media can be career-ending

Whether thanks to resignations, “resignations” or sackings, the annals of Twitter and Facebook are full of examples of people who have lost their jobs for things they shared in a moment of poor judgement. Carrying a smartphone means you can make or break your career in an instant, and sometimes at moments where you shouldn’t be communicating with the public.

The Latham case is yet another reminder that what you do on the internet stays around forever, and it’s very hard to keep a genie in the bottle, especially when that genie is regularly given to fits of rage, and even more especially when those fits of rage use the same material that has featured on an obscure Twitter account with your name on it.

The phones themselves may be smart, but often the people using them do very dumb things indeed.

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