BLOGSCANNING by Robert Janelle

Janelle-92X185Flip.jpgI can't help but wonder if a few indiscretions archived online will be as scandalous in future elections. It seems there are few college students today (candidates tomorrow) who don't have drunken pictures on their Facebook profiles.

Politicians learn to get social while fighting off pranksters
From SCAN's Print Edition

I love elections, if only because it seems that’s the one time normally stiff politicians loosen up in order to appeal to the public.
In the age of social media, there are more ways than ever to show off a little personality and for this election, it seems Canadian politicians are taking full advantage. Visiting official party web sites, regular blog readers will notice some familiar looking icons on the pages: blue and purple circles linking to photo-sharing site Flickr, the blue letter “t” for Twitter, the YouTube logo and of the “f” in the blue square representing Facebook.
However, I must admit I was really surprised to find a link to aggregation service FriendFeed on the Conservative web site. Not only that, but the link seems to go to Stephen Harper's personal Friendfeed page as there are few election updates. It’s mostly shared RSS feeds of hockey blogs. Definitely an interesting way to approach a social media campaign.
The Conservatives also took an interesting approach to the attack ad with notaleader.ca, mocking Liberal leader Stephane Dion, though most of the features like “create your own anti-Dion ad” have since been removed or the links no longer work, making it a pretty average attack site rather one with any social aspect.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton also has a Friendfeed page though he takes the more conventional approach of using it to aggregate campaign news. The NDP does take on one interesting twist with their social media strategy with Orangeroom.ca. It's essentially an online rallying point for supporters, providing tools to try to enlist bloggers in support of the campaign. Examples include a sidebar widget for bloggers that displays Mr. Layton's Twitter stream, and an easy-to-use interface for adding (non-flattering) captions to a photo of Mr. Harper.

Microblogging service Twitter is getting a pretty big work-out (particularly with an American election going on at the same time.) All the parties have Twitter streams going with Mr. Harper, Mr. Layton and the Green’s Elizabeth May writing personally. The Liberals have a stream with announcements for the whole party. Most updates for all parties consist of “Good rally in (insert name of city here)” along with links to press releases.

That said, even if they're being boring, it's still important for public figures to take an active social media role. Otherwise they risk having their identity usurped by online pranksters. Of course this happens anyway, leading to the more lively fake political Twitter feeds, with FakeJackLayton lamenting that his drug policy only covers prescription drugs (“Quit harshing my buzz,” he tweets.)

Meanwhile, FakeSteveHarper posts a stream of sarcastic comments including “Remember: Serious leaders wear blue sweaters.”

As gung-ho as parties have been about social media this election, however, it's also been the downfall for many candidates. There have been a number of candidates hoist by their own postings in the past, forced to leave the race for having written personal blog posts that were found offensive or for having uploaded videos of themselves consuming illicit substances (in one case, driving while under the influence of a hallucinogenic.) Apparently these aspiring politicians weren't warned that once something is on the Internet, it never really goes away.

I can't help but wonder if a few indiscretions archived online will be as scandalous in future elections. It seems there are few college students today (candidates tomorrow) who don't have drunken pictures on their Facebook profiles.

What’s most surprising about all the ways social media is shaping this election is that the politicians are using the tools at all. It will be interesting to see if Twitter and FriendFeed streams continue to be updated after October 14.

Bob Janelle is a freelance journalist who has plied his trade at the Citizen and Kingston’s Whig-Standard. A bilingual grad of Algonquin’s J-School, where he won awards for both writing and photography, he is a self-confessed video game addict.

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