Candidates should be seeking votes on election day – they shouldn’t be trying for retweets and Facebook friends.
That said, though Nanaimo city councillor Diane Brennan made a social media misstep, calls for her to step down were overdramatic. We think Elections B.C. was right to withhold sanctions.
On Nov. 15, Brennan posted to Twitter a photo of her charitable work with the hashtag #nanelxn14, and also an image of a vote poster, clearly trying to compel people to think of her at the polls that day. She claimed she wasn’t aware of the new Local Elections Campaign Financing Act rules, and once notified, she complied and deleted the tweets. Ignorance of the rules isn’t an excuse, and before tweeting she should have had her twits about her, but this was a minor transgression.
Realistically, a Nanaimo city councillor has a modest social media sphere. A handful of retweets seen by a small percentage of people who may or may not be swayed by the message isn’t going to have a major impact at the polls.
Social media isn’t yet a kingmaker or queenmaker in a city the size of Nanaimo, but we do think it has potential to be an influential tool in future elections. It’s a way to even the playing field against rivals with higher campaign budgets. It’s an opportunity for politicians to control their message and image without the news media’s filter. It’s a chance for candidates to engage with a low-voter-turnout age demographic.
Brennan’s blunder brought attention to the elections act fine print and next time around, council candidates in Nanaimo who break the rules will have a more difficult time pleading ignorance.
With more and more of the city’s electorate online, we will always have, on voting day, enough retweeters paying attention and policing cyberspace. We’ll have a pretty good idea of which politicians are ignoring the elections act, and we can decide, then, if we want to unfriend them.