I cringed some time ago when I read headline suggesting the 2011 federal election would be the first election in which the full force of social media would be unleashed.
My personal reaction at the time was that this would simply trivialize the election.
Facebook, (in general) and Twitter (in particular) I felt might provide some vague indicators of how the major political parties would finally engage what is, to me, their most difficult audience – the 80 per cent of young people under 25 who simply don’t vote in a general election in Canada.
Perhaps its unfair of me and demonstrates my bias about these two particular forms of the social media.
But, watching extended coverage of the English leaders’ debate on CBC I saw evidence that my fear about trivialization was not exaggerated.
The prominence in the 24-hour news coverage next day of the oft-reported figure that CBC received nearly 25,000 Twitter comments during the debate was disturbing. It was like reporting the hockey score. Some tweets were shown and, as I feared, most were exceedingly trivial and left me shaking my head.
To me, so far the election has been bland and predictable. Polls after the English language leaders’ debate, indicate the May 2 result will leave us basically where we were, with a minority Conservative government – and with another $400 million spent to reinforce the status quo.
The emergence of focused coverage of Steven Harper’s ability to stay on the message, his ‘’steely gaze,” his eyes on the prize, his “failure” to look into the eyes of his accusers – the three other party leaders – was equally disturbing. To me, this was unimportant to the debate.
Was he being “creepy,” as the CBC’s social media expert suggested or just concentrating on talking to the Canadian public, as proposed by the Financial Post?
How did the leaders perform was the question – not what did they actually say about policy.
Trivial, yes. Engaging young people, no! Unless, of course they could get Justin Beiber to endorse Jack Layton? Don’t laugh – still a lot of days to go and I can assure you that would get more coverage.
I could be wrong, but I watched the CBC-organized coverage of the young peoples’ “Toronto pub viewing of the debate,” complete with the distribution to the first-time voters of pictures of the four leaders so they would at least know who the players were on this TV game show. This may have been one of the more inane exercises of the week. “Who do you think performed best?” shilled the on-site announcer and, predictably, most held up Jack Layton pictures. But I suppose it’s a start.
I have to cheat here because I haven’t signed in to the CBC Facebook election coverage and I refuse to engage in the petty posting or reading of tweets. I just can’t do it! I have a personal Facebook account but haven’t seen a political message on it yet. But I know who among my friends are tired today, or plan an oil change.
The analysis of the May 2 turnout may help us learn if social media is useful in an election.
I do know where I see it serves a purpose, however – in eliciting immediate and real information about events in Japan, as they happened, in Egypt, as it evolved or in Libya as it unfolds.
If anything cogent emerges from watching the news of the Middle East and North African rebellions or the continuing tragedy in Japan, as compared to the Canadian election, it’s this: I’m glad I’m here, listening to the muted tones of our politicians, not over there is the midst of chaos or facing the formidable challenge of extracting a paralysed modern country from horrific death and destruction.