What hell hath social media wrought, amirite?
Whether it is cats, hashtags or Trivago Guy, the online realm can often be a whirlpool of inanities trying to suck us under. But if you can escape the traps and pointless memes, you have a chance to connect with people. And for candidates in the upcoming municipal election, you can interact with more voters than ever before.
Social media has expanded our access to the campaigns. Candidates are giving residents a new perspective on campaigns. Would-be councillors like Martin Canning and Catherine McKenney regularly give inside looks at the campaign trail. Jeff Leiper uses his blog to flesh out local issues and introduce himself to residents. Marc Aubin has laid out his urban vision. Others spread conspiracy theories.
Our reigning mayor is probably also the reigning social media king at City Hall. Though his website may be tricky to navigate, Jim Watson is active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He provides glimpses into his campaign, takes us through his daily life, offers to help to residents and tussles with voters for good or ill.
The mayor’s robust online presence is in stark contrast to that of his presumptive number one contender, Mike Maguire. Maguire plans to use “the power of social media” in his hopes to improve on his fifth place finish in the 2010 campaign. Unfortunately at the time of writing this, Maguire’s twitter account has only 131 tweets (compared to the mayor’s 43,300) and 159 followers. If that seems minimal, it is, and deliberately so:
@Dattan78 hey Nitin, just getting overwhelmed with the traffic.
— Mike Maguire (@mike4ottawa) July 25, 2014
Another mayoral candidate is doing a better job at interacting on social media. Darren Wood may only have 149 followers on Twitter, but he has made 786 tweets. He has engaged with residents and local journalists, and has used his blog to address comments and concerns about his campaign. But this level of engagement can come at a cost. He has entangled himself in unnecessary twitter battles, and has been known to insult some of the city’s residents:
Re-rooting buses… city hall and Watson kidsing Glebe residents ass as usual. You did buy a house beside a stadium… traffic is a given
— Darren W. Wood (@Vote_Wood) August 11, 2014
And, again to his detriment, his inconsistencies have been laid bare:
— Erik de Vries (@ErikWdV) August 7, 2014
[Full disclosure: I’ve had some online disagreements with Wood.]
This is, of course, the danger of social media. Every quick quip and defensive comment can give voters a glimpse behind the facade. Much of politics is about appearances, and social media can scuttle the most carefully planned-out campaign.
It is for this reason that many candidates will be much more careful about online engagement, perhaps even scrubbing their virtual history. Troy Dubé, a candidate in Cumberland Ward, is no newbie to Twitter, but you would not know that from his account, which only has four tweets, none before July 21. But the internet does not forget, even if tweets or accounts are deleted. Thus we know, for instance, that Dubé had an extended exchange with local feminist activist Julie S. Lalonde back in May:
We may not be happy that every little inane thing we have ever written can still be found online (I certainly am not!), but it is useful to voters to have a tool that breaks down the artificial persona so many politicians present.
So as we approach election day, if you think you are not finding enough interesting tidbits on our campaign, you might just need to hop onto Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and get the latest down-low.