For politicians, social media has become a great tool for communicating with constituents.
That was on display in 2015’s federal election, as political hopefuls lead Twitter campaigns, Facebook groups and other avenues in the interest of reaching as many voters as possible. Dan Albas, who was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola in the federal election, said social media is one of the reasons he first ran for office in 2011.
“One of the things that got me involved in elected office was that I felt many elected officials had a missed opportunity,” he described. “When you wrote a letter to an MLA or an MP, you weren’t sure if it was even received. Social media is an effective means for a citizen to directly interface with elected officials without a filter.”
Throughout the federal campaign, Albas used social media to remind constituents of advanced polling, where his campaign office was and reach as many people as he could. He noted social media is great because everyone is comfortable with that medium, while not everyone is comfortable writing a letter or phoning his office. While he acknowledged it’s impossible to respond to everyone immediately, it’s important to respond as quickly as possible to any tweets, Facebook messages or other communications he gets to build trust.
As more people continue to spend more time online, Albas noted social media allows people to be part of the political process and add accountability to politicians. That became evident when Albas proposed his wine bill, Bill C-311 in 2011. After finding everyone agreeing on the bill, Albas proposed they should stop debating it and go to a vote to pass it through for use as quickly as possible. While the Conservatives and Liberals were in favour of that, the NDP filibustered the bill and pushed it back to October, causing the bill to not come into effect until after tourist season.
The filibuster became common knowledge on social media, and many people began criticizing the NDP for its tactics. As a result, the NDP ended up releasing a statement saying it had made a mistake, which had an impact on the process at Parliament Hill as it showed transparency to see what was going on in Ottawa, allowed Canadians to directly commune with the government and had the NDP change it’s position within a week to let the bill pass without further debate.
Kelowna – Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick is also a proponent of using social media. He explained he has been utilizing social media for most of the time it has been around for a variety of purposes.
“Firstly, I use it to understand what my constituent priorities are,” Letnick described. “I use social media to hear from them, I use social media to ask people questions and do surveys online. I ask people what their priorities are, and I look for hot topics they would be interested in at things like health forums.”
Social media can be used as a great promotional and informational tool, as Letnick has used it to promote forums and keep his constituents updated on where he is and what he’s working on. However, he explained there are some downsides to social media.
“I find that there’s nothing better than face to face,” he said. “You get to see a person’s body language, their facial expressions, you can tell a lot from someone without them uttering a word. When people provide words on email, Twitter and Facebook, as many people know, those words can be misinterpreted. That misinterpretation comes down a lot when you’re face to face as you can clarify things, and that’s why I like door knocking and I continue to door knock and have meetings with my constituents.”
Another downside to social media is that politicians can’t be sure if someone who has contacted them is actually in their riding. On the flip side of that, however, Letnick noted it can give them a sense of the feeling throughout the province (or country for federal politicians) and not just within their own riding.
While the merits and drawbacks of social media can be endlessly debated, the choice for politicians when using it is quite clear; it’s another great tool to use to communicate with constituents.