Vanity driving Dotcom

COLIN ESPINER
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014
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KIM DOTCOM: The internet entrepreneur is now heading into politics.

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OPINION: There isn't much some people won't do for free ice cream. Radio stations have used the gimmick for years and now voters are being lured with frosty treats too.

The aspiring Civilian Party has the desire for ice cream as one of its three founding principles, while the soon-to-be-registered Internet Party has as its founder someone fond of donning an apron and doling out free scoops by the bucket load.

The difference between the satirist behind the Civilian Party, Ben Uffindell, and Kim Dotcom is that only one is intentionally trying to be funny. Both, however, are examples of the rise of what political scientist Bryce Edwards is calling the micro party.

Micro parties aren't necessarily single-interest, but they are often single-theme - the Pakeha Party, for example, and 1Law4All, were both formed with the view that Maori get a better deal than non-Maori. The Maori Party was formed with the opposite stance.

Anti-political parties can sometimes upset the apple cart. Britain's Monster Raving Looney Party gave the Conservatives headaches for years, and even managed to win seats on several local councils.

Dotcom's pending entry into our political landscape may be both micro and looney but it has reportedly got both Labour and National worried. It's true the giant German national has earned his self-anointed moniker The Wrecking Ball of Change. There can be few immigrants who have caused more damage in such a short space of time.

But in hindsight, the botched, illegal, government-sanctioned raid by police on behalf of the United States at Dotcom's Coatesville mansion, and his subsequent brief imprisonment, was the best thing that could have happened to the publicity-seeking tycoon. It won him a level of public attention and sympathy even his millions could not buy.

Because behind the ice creams and the fireworks, the offers to fund our next America's Cup challenge or a new submarine fibre-optic internet cable, the extravagant parties to which we're all invited and promises of free wi-fi for all, lies a narcissist desperate for popularity, relevance, and above all, respect.

It's my opinion that Dotcom's constant quest for omnipotence stems from his desire to make us - and the rest of the world - understand the value of his achievements (and they are many) while forgetting his criminal past as a computer hacker and convicted fraudster.

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The bungled raid and the illegal surveillance of Dotcom by the GCSB handed the internet mogul a gilt-edged pulpit from which to preach to the masses against the evils of the power of the state.

Fortunately for him, there was a ready audience, thanks to worldwide alarm at the antics of the US over its multi-national bulk spying via mass data collector PRISM and its subsequent exposure by whistle-blower Edward Snowden - and other spying scandals uncovered by WikiLeaks and its publisher Julian Assange.

Dotcom has been quick to associate himself with both. At Christmas he tweeted: "Merry Xmas Edward Snowden. You are a hero and a role model. Thank you for your selfless act of awesomeness." He told Britain's Guardian newspaper recently: "We are all children of Assange".

Dotcom likes the parallels: all are fugitives from justice; campaigners for freedom of information; anti-state and pro-privacy.

The difference, however, between Dotcom and Assange and Snowden is that they released top-secret information held by governments and corporations because they believed it was in the public interest. They did it for free and they did it knowing they were likely to be arrested forit.

Dotcom presided over the world's largest pirate website, which was shut down for repeated copyright violations he claimed to know nothing about. He made a fortune from it, and he has claimed that while he suspected Hollywood would come after him in the civil courts he never anticipated criminal prosecution.

Many seem to have missed the distinction. Dotcom to them is a hero, a wronged man, a champion of cheap internet and free speech. Money has helped him get the media onside. He cooperated with Herald journalist David Fisher for a largely favourable book about him, thus also ensuring ongoing coverage from the country's biggest newspaper.

He's courted other journalists, too - including the founder of internet news site Scoop, Alastair Thompson, who was forced to resign last week after his involvement with Dotcom was revealed by WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater.

Tomorrow Dotcom was to launch another of his vanity projects - an album of dance music. The occasion was supposed to double as the unveiling of his much-anticipated foray into politics but it's now been cancelled amidst Electoral Commission concerns it could breach electoral laws.

This is a vast over-reaction, given the election is almost a year away, and given ‘treating' voters is generally accepted to be an issue only during or immediately prior to an election campaign. But assuming it does eventually arrive, will Dotcom's Internet Party wreak havoc on the election result? Actually, I don't think so.

Dotcom's political publicity vehicle is likely to appeal to internet-savvy young people alienated from mainstream politics who haven't voted before. Therefore it's unlikely to pull support off the existing major and minor parties. So unless it reaches the 5 per cent threshold - a huge hurdle - or wins an electorate seat, that first-time vote will simply end up wasted.

Because Dotcom himself can't stand, the chances of any other candidate put up by him winning a seat in their own right are extremely slim.

But that won't bother Dotcom. His endgame is not a career in politics. It's too mundane, time-consuming, poorly-paid, and it requires you to be awake during the day. His aims are to strengthen his ability to remain in New Zealand, to fuel his ego, and to cause John Key as much discomfit as possible.

Given Dotcom's increasing public influence, he's likely to achieve all three.

- Sunday Star Times

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