University of Melbourne Magazine

From wild west to ‘democracy sausage’

  • By Susanna Ling

    Image of John Tass-Parker

    John Tass-Parker

    John Tass-Parker (BCom BA(Media&Comm)2012) has already had his fair share of career highlights. He’s worked for two Australian prime ministers, in the movie industry in Los Angeles, and as a wedding photographer. But for the past five years, Tass-Parker has worked for Instagram’s Politics and Government team in New York, and he’s recently been listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30.

    What strings these seemingly disparate interests together, he says, is stories.

    “I’ve always been attracted to stories,” he says. “Originally I was really interested in production and Hollywood, but I wasn’t quite clicking with that world. Gradually, I became attracted to the idea of working in government.”

    After graduating, Tass-Parker took a job as digital communications adviser in the Office of the Prime Minister of Australia.

    He was responsible for shaping Julia Gillard’s online presence when she was Prime Minister. “This meant working closely with the PM all the time, being her photographer day-to-day, producing videos, engaging with bloggers and shaping all of that into a cohesive strategy,” Tass-Parker says.

    “These days there are multiple people involved in the digital presence of most high-profile political leaders, but back then it was the wild west.”

    After the 2013 federal election, he moved to the US to work for Instagram. Having been on exchange to Georgetown University in Washington, DC while studying at Melbourne, he already had a network there.

    “I’ve always been attracted to stories… Gradually, I became attracted to the idea of working in Government.”

    Today, Tass-Parker’s ‘wild west’ is no more. Social media is now a key communication channel for most of us – including politicians.

    Tass-Parker takes this evolving role of social media seriously. “With Instagram’s prominence comes a lot of responsibility to protect the integrity of elections and civic discourse,” he says.

    “Along with our work to promote civic engagement, Instagram is doing a lot of work to increase account transparency, improve efforts to detect bad actors, expand election information operations, and fight misinformation on Instagram.”

    His role as Instagram’s head of politics and government gave him a “front row ticket and backstage pass” to the 2016 US presidential race, right when Instagram’s potential in the political sphere was being realised.

    Inspired by a partnership he developed with Fairfax Media in the 2013 Australian election to capture portraits of Australia’s political leaders, he helped develop a similar partnership between Instagram and US broadcaster CNN.

    Tass-Parker argues that social media can not only connect politicians and voters but help people with shared political interests find like-minded communities and give a voice to those traditionally underrepresented by mainstream media.

    During the 2018 US midterm elections, Tass-Parker was part of the team that built a product to help voters access important voting information. At its peak, more than 1000 people – including celebrities – were using Instagram’s ‘I Voted’ sticker per minute.

    He helped bring similar features to Australia for the 2019 federal election. Instagram collaborated with artist Tony Albert to create four election-themed stickers for use in Instagram Stories, including, of course, a ‘democracy sausage’, something Tass-Parker had a lot of fun explaining to his US colleagues.