Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Character Debate (well actually, 140 characters)

The 41st federal election is being called Canada's first social media national election. Four days in, we are seeing heavy use of blogs and Facebook to comment, generate awareness and get the message/spin out. But what has really struck me in these early days is the use of the instrument of brevity and immediacy known as Twitter.

I am going to trust that anyone reading this blog (as always, fingers crossed!) will know what Twitter is and how it works. So moving beyond that, let's take a moment to consider the impact that it may have on #elxn41.

Twitter offers its users an opportunity to share and read tweets - 140 character messages - with virtual immediacy. In an election environment it can be a powerful tool. Briefly...

- For the general public it offers a chance to stay informed by connecting with a wider network of information sources (importantly, without having to search - once you have set yourself up a good list of people to follow, you have a virtual news / spin feed).

- For journalists it offers an opportunity to report and disseminate information in real-time, be it from a studio, the hustings, the bus, wherever.

- For political parties it offers an opportunity to get the message out, to challenge opponents, and promote initiatives to a wider audience, again in real-time.

It's the last point on which I want to focus for a moment. Above and beyond what a party may do via Twitter, the potential for supporters to engage in the debate, share their views, etc. has the effect of creating multiple spokespersons.

What I have noticed in the past few days is the increasing frequency with which party advocates are tweeting and re-tweeting...

- Talking points
- Favourable articles about their party of choice
- Negative articles about their opponents
- Their own spin about how an event went, including video and photos

Now, without question a number of these people are involved with their party of choice. However, I suspect a sizeable number are not. What they are is engaged. They have views on the issues and the parties, and for really the first time have the technological ability to share those views with the express intent of influencing.

Yes, sometimes it reads like an odd, disjointed argument. But for me, the more important element is the decision these people have taken to participate in the political process, regardless of their views or political stripe. They are engaging in debate with people across the country on a range of issues - some possibly trivial, many substantive.

In many ways Twitter is a great leveler. The technology is widely available, it is easy to use, it doesn't discriminate based on wealth or location (internet access being the only real impediment). Most importantly, we all are limited to 140 characters.



  1. i love it! If I didn't have twitter or social media I don't know what I would do bc... living in detroit across the narrow river might as well be across the atlantic ocean. I don't hear or know anything about Canada - nothing is ever covered in the news here... so its nice to see so much political hype online. :)

  2. I was late getting to the Twitter party. Before I started using it I didn't the see the point behind it. But over these last few weeks I have discovered that it is a great source of information. As you said, instead of viewing or searching several websites, I just read my Twitter timeline to find articles that might interest me.

    I, along with you, like how it's connecting people and allowing ordinary people to engage in politics, it is refreshing to see. I wonder, though, if a lot of the people discussing and sharing info related to elxn41 are people who would do so outside of Twitter as well. Such as myself. What I would like to know is the impact social media is having on those who are not usually inclined to be a part of the political process.

    Just a thought... Great post!


  3. Thank-you both for your comments. The connectivity point is a good one - particularly for those following who are not in Canada.

    I am enjoying the immediate reaction, photos, etc. that people are tweeting from events, rallys, etc. It offers more than the traditional reliance on the news and broadcasters.

    The point about whether Twitter is enabling something that would otherwise not happen is interesting. Is it bringing new people into the debate - like you, Kendall - or more often serving as an alternative feed or platform for those aready engaged?


  4. We in the West have no voice!! Last night was sick. The only one with CLASS was Mr Harper. The other three talked like a bunch of little kids.


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