Social media changes election methods

Sociologist Christopher Schneider says the social media revolution will drastically impact how citizens participate in a democracy. - Jennifer Smith
Sociologist Christopher Schneider says the social media revolution will drastically impact how citizens participate in a democracy.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Green Party leader Elizabeth May is ahead of the curve, not sidelined to Twitter commentary as the mainstream media paints it.

Ask UBCO sociologist Chris Schneider and he will tell you the traditional face-to-face debate from which May was blocked this week, forcing her to weigh-in via tweets, is probably on its way out the door.

He equates the manner social media—a hybrid between social interaction and media—is transforming our world with a revolution of the size and scope of the industrial revolution, saying that has huge implications for democracy.

“We’re having the (political) conversation in real time, all the time, and that’s truly remarkable,” Schneider said.

Whether it’s on Facebook, or Twitter, or the comments column beneath traditional news stories, public interaction with one another, with politicians and with traditional media, has left both young and old to try sorting through copious sound bites of information, often delivered directly from political hopefuls mouth’s to their constituents’ eyes and ears.

“We don’t yet know the consequences of what’s happening and, more often than not, what you are getting is just speculation,” said Schneider.

Whether U.S. President Barack Obama’s big win was truly a product of his campaign’s social media involvement, for example, is unclear, just as it isn’t necessarily true that youth are more engaged because of the social media factor or that the youth are definitely the ones using the new media, he said.

In fact, one look at the UBCO and Okanagan College campuses this week would leave one questioning whether there is any youth involvement in this election at all.

There are no official Young Liberals, Young Conservatives or Young NDP running around lobbying students, as in years gone by.

Scott Ross helped organize the Young Liberals when he was a first-year student in 2007. Now just one paper away from finishing his degree, he’s on the Liberal campaign executive for Kris Stewart, but said there is no organized Young Liberal group this time. In fact, he’s noticed unprecedented apathy.

“I think it’s basically at the activist level. It’s just that there’s nobody there to tap into that sentiment that we can better our country,” he said.

For Ross, the prevailing attitude seems to be that the Okanagan ridings are not winnable, that only a Conservative candidate will get in.

He believes strongly in the traditional door knocking style of campaign, but says the commitment to actually get out and stand in the hallways and talking to other students just isn’t there among his peers. “I’m not just going to sit back because we can’t win or we’re not going to win,” he said. “I want Liberals to win this riding, so I’m out there.”

Crystal Wariach—a highly politically involved young woman who has run for the provincial Green Party, city council and been a member of the federal Liberals since she was 17—is right there with him.

She is acting as events organizer for the campaign, but says her calls to the UBCO student union to try and engage discussion on how she can set up an event on campus have gone unanswered.

“I think there’s a real lack of leadership from the student union as far as engaging students,” she said. “And I think they’ve really let the student body down.”

The Liberal platform plays directly to young people’s needs, she pointed out, with the efforts to help reduce the tuition burden with the education passport and Employment Insurance incentives, which should make it easier for young people to get a job out of school—an issue she knows is ripe in this valley.

Efforts by the Capital News to contact a young NDPer went unanswered; the same for the Conservative camp.

It is exam time, Ross noted, saying he figures this too has had an impact.

Then again, it might very well be that the way young people engage in the electoral process has changed dramatically, even within the time frame of Ross’s degree-earning years, as this media revolution unfolds.

Spurred by the dismal showing from eligible voters aged 18 to 24 in the last federal election, CBC television comedian/political pundit Rick Mercer has issued a challenge, getting students engaged via a Vote Mob.

Universities across the country have responded and Kelowna’s is no different. On Thursday, April 21, a Vote Mob will be held in City Park, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

This new hybrid demonstration which evokes a social media concept (flash mobs), but basically amounts to a demonstration, has been promoted via the social media staple—the networking site Facebook. Could online voting be just a stone’s throw away? For now, the Canadian government says no.


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