Analysis of activity on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page

20 January 2022: David Seymour MP wrote to us asking us to inquire into a decision to spend money on analysis of the Prime Minister’s Facebook page.

Mr David Seymour
Leader
ACT New Zealand

Tēnā koe Mr Seymour

Analysis of activity on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page

Thank you for your letter dated 8 November 2021. You asked me to inquire into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s (DPMC) decision to spend money on analysis of the Prime Minister’s Facebook Live sessions. The purpose of this letter is to let you know that I will not be carrying out an inquiry into the matter. The reasons for this are explained below.

Background from your letter

Your letter refers to the Prime Minister’s response to a parliamentary question about how much DPMC spent on qualitative research relating to Covid-19 in the 2020/21 financial year. Her response was that DPMC had spent $252,945 on quantitative and qualitative research, including opinion polling and focus groups relating to the “Unite against COVID-19” public campaign.

You requested a copy of the research from DPMC. DPMC provided you with the analysis it commissioned, including the report from Moana Research (the report) and other research reports. The report included analysis of four livestreamed events on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page. These events were the basis for your letter to me.

The analysis of the Prime Minister’s Facebook page

According to the report, the research was commissioned by DPMC to “help their understanding of the general sentiments among Aucklanders, particularly South Aucklanders, in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak and lift in levels”. In particular, the research sought to understand the clarity of messaging, trusted sources, motivation to comply, and where more support was needed.

Reviewers surveyed 1140 respondents, interviewed 225 participants, and ran eight focus groups talanoa (talk or discussion), which the report described as empathetic research. The report also included a news media scan for the days around the Covid-19 outbreak and change in alert levels (27 February 2021 to 5 March 2021). The review of the four livestreamed events on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page was part of the news media scan.

In the report, the researchers identified that social media was one of the top three sources of information relied on by Aucklanders.

Of the four Facebook events, three were livestreams of the post-Cabinet press conference. The press conferences were also livestreamed and broadcast on several other websites and platforms including Stuff, Radio NZ, TVNZ, and Newshub. The fourth event was described in the analysis as a “quick check in”. The four events were all connected with announcements made by the Prime Minister about the Government’s Covid-19 response.

Social media responses highlighted in the report include comments on the Prime Minister’s leadership in relation to Covid-19, and the Government’s response to Covid-19 generally. They also include comments on the impact of Covid-19 on South Auckland, responses to breaches of regulations, and how Covid-19 was affecting small businesses.

Conclusion

We note your comments about the two hats that Ms Ardern wears as Prime Minister and as the leader of the Labour Party. Her Facebook page reflects both of those roles. We agree that Ministers need to carefully consider what expenditure is incurred under departmental appropriations, and what is incurred as party expenses.

The report identified social media as an important source of information. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that the analysis included feedback on the Prime Minister’s livestreamed Facebook events in which she spoke in her capacity as the Prime Minister about the Government’s response to Covid-19. The analysis was relevant to the assessment of the clarity of messaging, trusted sources, motivation to comply, and where more support was needed.  

On that basis, I do not consider the matter warrants an inquiry by my office.

Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. Because of the public interest in the matter, I have decided to publish this letter on our website.

Nāku noa, nā

Signature - JR

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General