COM0015: Blog #2 – Social Media and the Political Process

Social media is an excellent way to involve citizens in the political process. By keeping them well-informed and engaged, they will not only be educated about what is happening but also more motivated to want to be a part of it. That means stating their opinions, making their voices heard, and ultimately, turning up at the ballot box.

The Senate of Canada has taken a big leap forward in employing social media as a way of keeping Canadians engaged in the governance of the Red Chamber. In March they partnered with Twitter, an agreement which will see select committee meetings live streamed on Periscope. The Senate also live-tweets events procedural events and votes. And all senators are identified by their Twitter handles.


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is a significant evolution in the parliamentary process – particularly from an institution typically viewed as being, well, behind the times. Using Twitter allows the Senate to reach out to a younger audience, one who might not know much about what they do or how it may affect their lives. And using a senator’s handle to identify them also gives the public a way to communicate directly with them, automatically making them more personable and approachable. It democratizes the upper chamber which has typically been viewed as the most undemocratic branch of our government.

The next best thing to having our political institutions utilizing social media is having our, well, media use social media. The New York Times has done an excellent job of making their Facebook page a destination for news lovers – not only in the United States, but everywhere.

The NY Times posts stories frequently on their Facebook page and on Twitter, but they also actively involve their followers in story creation. They use their audience as a resource. Often, when covering a topic they will solicit their Facebook followers feedback. For example, if they are writing a story about gender discrimination in the workplace, they will post on their Facebook page asking for people to share their own experiences. They make the news feel less like a reporter-reader relationship and more like a community sharing of information.


Courtesy of

The New York Times also utilizes the Facebook Live platform frequently, for everything from exclusive musical performances to discussions about topical issues. Their weekly discussion series #RaceNYT is a half-hour live broadcast on Facebook that looks at race relations in the US. Often these conversations involve readers sharing their own experiences. The videos are hosted by a New York Times journalist and they take questions from readers in the comments section. They are giving their audience a role to play in the news, not just telling them what is happening.

While there are organizations that are clearly adept at moving the conversation forward using social media, others have not quite caught up. iPoliticsLive is the live journalism branch of iPolitics – an online political news publication based in Ottawa. It provides a new and inventive way to deliver the news to Canadians, but it’s social media outreach certainly needs some work.

In some ways, it is very advanced. iPoliticsLive presents events around a specific issue with a journalist interviewing a panel of experts live in front of an audience. Broadcast free on Facebook Live, the events are available for anyone to watch. They use a new technology called Slido which allows users to enter the event hashtag, ask questions and vote on questions they like. The audience then becomes the interviewer.

Where iPoliticsLive does a poor job of utilizing social media is in promotion for itself. Twitter is used infrequently and then only to live-tweet during events. And Facebook is used only to post links to an upcoming event page on Eventbrite. But they could be doing so much more.

Their social media should be engaging their audience, and reaching out to potential followers who would be interested in their upcoming events. By starting to post more frequently, and asking questions about what new topics should be covered, they will get a better feel for what is important to Canadian citizens.


What does my Instagram account say about me, and why does it matter?

My Instagram account is looking pretty slim lately.  I try not to overwhelm my social media feeds with pictures of my 1-year-old, even as though he’s clearly the most adorable human to ever walk the Earth.  Instead, I post pictures of images captured on my daily commute.  I didn’t create them, and they’re never staged, all I do is share with what speaks to me with the world.  I’d never call my self an artist, but I would say that I’m a decent curator of guerrilla art.

So, what’s the problem with that?  Nothing… as far as I knew.  I thought that this was an innocuous pass-time until I read about the new “Social Media vetting” involved with crossing the border into the United States.

“If that sort of rule is enacted and they’re required to provide passwords or other things related to their social media, people will really have to start thinking about whether they want to continue to travel across the border”- BCCLA on CBC

It has recently come to light that US border agents can insist that visitors to their country give up their social media passwords (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) so that they can review travelers’ accounts and judge whether they are welcome to enter the country.  If you refuse to offer the passwords, they can refuse you entry into the country, simple as that.

My Instagram account shows that I have pride in civic rebellion, that I’m a left-leaning Canadian woman with Democratic sympathies, I may become a problem for the establishment, I clearly *have* a problem with the establishment, and that I am someone who would definitely be marching in solidarity with US citizens in the next  Women’s March.  And as the US becomes more and more restrictive to people’s liberties, this may limit my ability to visit friends and family in the future.  Even if it doesn’t, my name will most likely be added to a list for future evaluation.

Let’s be honest.  My Instagram account has a much more energetic and optimistic political-life than I do – I’m snapping pictures of art that other people took the time and effort to  create.  Regardless, I now own these messages and everything that they say about me. If the biggest penalty is I can’t add my 70 cents on a US dollar to their economy, I can deal with that.  I recognize that have the privilege to be able to stand by my  beliefs, but it’s just one more thing that makes me want to fight the good fight, you know?

What do you think? Am I over-reacting? Is giving up Social Media passwords a small price to pay for entering an entirely different country, or is it an invasion of privacy?

Twitter: Social media passwords, privacy, and border control. When #BigBrother actually is watching

Facebook: A picture is worth a thousand words, and that might be a problem.



Big Data = Big Problems.


I never know how much stock to put into the whole “Big Brother is Watching You” thing. I mean, that’s the way the internet works.  Facebook and Twitter and Google and… almost every site is tracking my clicks, gathering data for future use.

I consider myself web savvy; I know what sites and emails are safe to visit, and I am even happy to ‘opt in’ to cookies as I prefer targeted advertising over random. I use Facebook and Google extensively, and I know that they need to pay their staff somehow. Besides, it’s not about me – I’m just a statistic, right? A trend line on a graph somewhere.

Maybe not.

According to this recent article on Vice, all of that data that I’ve thoughtfully and thoughtlessly offered up to the world has painted a clear personality profile… not of someone like me, but of ME, myself and I.

This article reads like a left-wing conspiracy theory, but it’s based on facts. To sum it up, a company called Cambridge Analytica  created an algorithm that pulls from a bunch of different sources of online data to build personality profiles of people, and then took the next step:  they associated that personality with the person’s name and address. This information was sold to political parties (ie Donald Trump’s campaign) allowing them to direct targeted advertising, both online and in person.  The data gathered by the algorithms allowed the campaign to determine what each individual wanted to hear on each issue, and delivered that promise. According to the Vice article, this is why so many of Trump’s messages seemed to contradict themselves: because they were specifically targeted to different audiences, each hearing the version that spoke to them.

Now targeted political messaging isn’t new – Justin Trudeau came to BC to speak about tourism, forestry and the Pacific Ocean, he spoke to Energy and job creation in Alberta, and to the Auto manufacturers in Ontario. But this is data-driven personalised marketing so much more elegant – targeted and effective. It doesn’t help that cultivated and curated social media feeds affirming our established beliefs just feed into our narrow world-view bubbles.

So that’s what has been keeping me up at night lately.  What do you think about this use of data collection? Is it an invasion of privacy, or the price we pay for the convenience of our social media feeds?

Twitter: Big Data = Big Problems. The true costs of “free websites”. #socialmedia #privacy

Facebook:  Big Data = Big Problems.  We’re not just a number anymore.


COM0011- Hitting the campaign trail, one tweet at a time.

Social media has been a round for a while now and it is certainly not a new tactic on the political trail. What is always an interesting debate is how helpful or hurtful social media can be to a political campaign.

In both Canadian and American politics we have heard how successful social media can be to a political candidate. Barack Obama rode the Twitter and Facebook wave of the “Yes, we can” slogan right to the White House. People shared that slogan and accompanying graphics across social media platforms and reach a large number of people, encouraging them to get out a vote.

Similarly, Justin Trudeau, an active social media user, shared his platform and encouraged a younger generation to get out and vote by using social media. He was able to reach the younger generation in a way that they wanted to be reached, something that the Conservatives had difficult doing. He has also since encouraged his MPs to be active and transparent on social media to show how open his government truly is.

We have also seen how social media can harm a political candidate. There are always scandals brewing around political candidates and incumbents and these are quickly shared over social media. While scandals were often uncovered in the media, Bill Clinton and John Edwards quickly spring to mind, you could only imagine the fire storm, protests, memes and other posts about their affairs, if the scandals occurred in the time of social media.

Sexting scandals, or when a political official says something incorrectly, are often quickly put on social media to share with fellow constituents. These can certainly harm a political candidate’s chances of getting into office and certain factors about their past and present lives can be uncovered.

An important aspect of a political campaign is reaching alarms audience. The larger the audience, the more people you have reached who could possibly vote for you. Instead of pounding the pavement and going door to door (which is still important), social media allows these candidates to reach a larger audience then they could have ever reached going door to door. The more people who hear about your platform and campaign, the more voters you could have voting for you.

Do you think social media harms or helps political campaigns?

Technology and social media in political campaigns

I recently covered the Manning Centre’s Networking Conference for my newspaper, and attended a panel called Technology and politics in the 21st century. Industry Minister James Moore, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Colin McKay from Google spoke about how technology and social media have changed the political campaigning landscape.

I remember when I was in high school and got my first email address in 1996. It was a Hotmail address that I still use today for junk mail and lists. I was struck however, when Moore said that 1997 was the first federal election where political parties had websites, followed by the 2000 election campaign in which tech-savvy individual campaigns got their own website. In today’s digital age, it seems like those things have always been with us.

Moore went on to describe how technology changed the game in 2004, when “almost everyone had websites that were not controlled by the party.” This was also the start of personal blogs, which sometimes got a few candidates in trouble because they were posting their unfiltered thoughts on the internet, and without approval from the central party command structure. He described the 2008 election as the Facebook campaign, and the most recent one in 2011, it was the Twitter campaign. In this federal election year, he said, the challenge for candidates and political parties will be unlike any other when it comes to using technology to reach voters and win campaigns.

With the many different social media outlets and technology avenues available for political candidates, there will likely be a decentralization of political party campaigns, Moore said.

“Decentralization, the opportunities for decentralization of the dissemination of information in unique ways for individual candidates in ways that make sense for their districts has never been more diversified before in Canadian history, which is a great thing, but the challenges and risks for political parties therein is extraordinary. You have this tiering away of national campaigns,” Mr. Moore told attendees of the Manning Centre Networking conference on March 6. “Broadcasting is dying, narrowcasting is growing. … The challenges in 2015 will be unlike any campaign before in a candidate’s history as on a local and national level we try to engage in two different approaches of whole cohorts of voters.”

Looking back at the evolution of how political parties reached out to voters is interesting. In a way, politicians are more accessible to their constituents given the instantaneous nature of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But in a way, also, perhaps the significance of politics and public policy has been lost, whittled down to 140 characters and selfies at events to prove engagement. And, the question must be asked, are they really engaging the general public, or has social media become an “echo chamber” of sorts, as more people seek out information online that conform to their own world view?

It’s a discussion that the traditional media might be worried about having. Former Sun News Ottawa bureau chief David Akin tweeted about this issue today with former CBC reporter Elly Alboim and others:


I believe Akin is right. Alboim and Gerald Butts also make some good points:


So, has social media become an echo chamber in which users are merely looking for information that reinforce their views? If so, how does this allow politicians to truly engage voters, and gain new support rather than just talking to people who already share their vision?

Clement said that one of the biggest advantages for politicians to use social media is so that they can engage, speak and interact directly with voters. “Part of what we do as politicians, how we both react and try to be proactive, I think it’s now incumbent upon us, if we want to be successful politicians, successful in our job at projecting ideas and principles, we need to keep on top of technology,” he said, noting he now has an Instagram account which he uses as a different way to communicate to his constituents and Canadians in general. “It’s become part of a table of how I can talk about my day and interact with people that I didn’t use two years ago.”

In today’s digital age, each major political party is using “big data to craft their message, to target their message, to communicate  on particular issues to audiences,” Clement said. “We’re living in an age where things are changing rapidly.”

All of the technology, however, cannot replace going door-to-door and interacting with people in real time, face to face, Clement added. I think this is key. With all the technology out there, I think people still want information and they still want to have meaningful conversations.

As McKay from Google said, there is an appetite for more information in politics as people go online to search for information. He noted that people check on candidates or issues at least 14 times before making a decision on who to vote for. Additionally, “how to vote” was the one search in Canada last year in the “how to” category, he said.

“Digital tools are allowing voters to connect with politicians,” Mr. McKay said, noting that politicians are able to reach more people through social media than the traditional media. “The web is changing policy and political outcomes. … The landscape has changed.”

Indeed, it has.

COMM0014 Blog Post 2 – Know your audience — the reality of code-switching

Code-switching in its broadest definition is the practice of shifting the language you use or the way you express yourself depending on your audience or environment. This shift may be conscious (e.g., how we speak during a formal business presentation) or unconscious (e.g., the language we lapse into around our old childhood friends).

Code-switching happens all the time and is practised by virtually everyone, but what is particularly interesting to me is the way that race, ethnicity and culture influence how we speak in different situations. A wonderful example of almost seamless and adept use of the practice is the well-documented (and well-parodied by comic team Key and Peele) code-switching of US President Barack Obama. In the case of President Obama and many other African Americans, the ability to code-switch is a matter of necessity, the reason for which is best articulated by Dr. Oscar J. Harp III

Ebonics (a blend of ebony and phonics), a term coined by black psychologist, Dr. Robert Williams, was theoretically developed out of a need for African captives during the transatlantic slave trade to communicate among themselves. Although it’s successfully used in American advertisement, it is repeatedly disdained by educators who admonish black students for its use in the school setting.

There is a misconception throughout the United States and Canada that there is one acceptable form of the English language, and any deviation away from this accepted standard is viewed with disdain, if not outright distrust. Even though we all engage in code-switching to varying degrees, a fairly homogenous majority has taken it upon themselves to decide that their code wins in arenas such as politics, business and education. Perhaps it can be argued that a standardized language assists effective communication between groups. However, similar to the apocryphal Anglophone tourist abroad who insists everyone speak English, little effort is made for the winning code to more faithfully reflect all of the parties using it.

Thus, I would argue that story-telling alone is not what defines the human experience.
A willingness to listen to the stories of others shows a willingness to learn from lived experiences outside of our own, and insisting on a shift to a standard language leaves so very much lost in translation.