In a candid takedown of the state of Maltese politics, Joseph Muscat warned that many people are crying out for proper leaders whose decisions aren’t constantly influenced by what people say on social media.
“A crucial point is that leaders must be able to change the narrative and explain to people where they disagree with them,” Muscat said on F Living when discussing the issue of rising non-voters.
“For example, I know that at least 50% of people disagreed with what I said about welcoming foreigners and that 90% would have agreed with me if I said we should kick them out. But my job is to convince the 50% through the power of arguments.”
As an example, Muscat said he used to be against the right of gay couples to adopt children but was convinced to change his mind at a time the majority of the public was still against it.
“I didn’t change my mind because of what people wrote on Facebook but because my arguments didn’t make sense rationally,” he said.
A survey showed that only 30% of Maltese people were in favour of gay adoptions when this right was introduced into law, but this shifted to around 70% a year and a half later.
“People realised over time,” Muscat argued.
The former Prime Minister insisted he has never even logged into Facebook, with an assistant administering his page, because he doesn’t want his decisions to be influenced by social media comments.
In fact, he urged politicians not to focus on the short-term dopamine hit brought about by positive social media reactions.
“Facebook friends are fake friends,” Muscat said bluntly. “How many people in your friends list are truly your friends? My advice to politicians is not to focus on artificial Facebook likes and comments. Instead, focus on being comfortable with your own beliefs and then speaking to people about them.”
And despite the world growing more and more digital, Muscat said face-to-face contact through house visits remains an irreplaceable experience for politicians who wish to gain a proper understanding of society.
“It starts from the moment people open the door for you,” he said. “Many elderly people used to be wearing jackets when they opened their doors because they were cold but scared to switch on their heaters because the electricity bills were so expensive.”
“Moving on to the entrance hall, you see photos of their children and grandchildren, photos ranging from people from humble origins to people graduating from university, which is a sign of social mobility.”
“Then they offer you something, and from what someone offers you to drink, you can tell what they’re passing through.”
“The PN’s best billboard was in 1998, when they showed empty and full fridges, and it’s true – when someone opens their fridge, you know where they stand in life. No Facebook can give that to you.”
Muscat said that while both the government and the Opposition should be concerned about the rise in non-voters, the Opposition has more reason to worry.
“A Prime Minister takes more decisions in a day than an Opposition Leader takes in five years. The Prime Minister can say that people might not agree with certain decisions, but what can the Opposition say?”
Do you agree with Muscat’s leadership assessment?