Social media shifting rules for local politicians

#yyj

  • Jun. 21, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Frank Leonard wants to be your friend.

The Saanich mayor – and many of his council colleagues – regularly use politically motivated tweets and Facebook wall posts to make their opinions known to their followers. The most lively issue of late? Light rail transit.

Leonard and Coun. Dean Murdock have been debating the issue with one another, along with public input, on Facebook.

Leonard recently told the News he is hesitant to openly support a $950-million plan for regional light-rail because he wants to know whether taxpayers favour the tax increase needed to foot a portion of the bill.

Murdock, a staunch supporter of public transit, commented on Facebook saying, “Mayor Leonard would prefer we had the lump of coal that is traffic congestion.”

Leonard responded with, “I see my young colleague has mocked me … It is unfortunate that to point out that a major expenditure will cost more taxes is considered politically incorrect.”

Coun. Judy Brownoff, also on Facebook, commented (without naming names): “Typical of ‘old time politicians’ … society has changed and future planning politicians know about taxes and we know how to manage projects like this! Old time politics 101 scare taxpayers before you know what the increase will be.”

Councillors Paul Gerrard, Vicki Sanders and Susan Brice are also on Facebook, along with many of their Victoria and Oak Bay counterparts.

Janni Aragon, senior instructor of political science at the University of Victoria and an active social media user, says politicians need to have a web presence on social media but must balance personal opinion with professionalism.

“We all get braver and bolder behind our keyboard, our monitor, and forget about the repercussions of the things we post or we tweet,” she said.  “As their political selves … it’s a way for them to connect with people.”

Leonard says he uses Facebook tool as an alternative dialogue, though he’s quickly realizing there are downsides to having an open forum.

“It’s not a private conversation. You have to be aware of what you put on there. It’s an open conversation and it’s there forever,” he said. “You always, whether it’s at the grocery store or the coffee shop, get feedback. This is simply a virtual way of having that same conversation, but you reach a whole lot more people at once and it’s all out in the open.”

Murdock agrees. He says he’s glad this back-and-forth on light rail happened on Facebook because it allows for more public input that will ultimately lend to a more “informed debate” if it comes before council.

“The council agenda is fairly rigid. We don’t have an opportunity to open up a conversation with the public or with other councillors, so Facebook is a great way to throw something out there and get feedback,” he said.

“And we often hear from people (online) who wouldn’t necessarily come out to a council meeting or who may not come out to a community event.”

But disagreement among political colleagues on Facebook is no different than disagreement in council chambers, Murdock said.

“That’s exactly what the process is all about. It’s healthy to have these kinds of debates,” he said. “It benefits the overall discussion on a complex and controversial issue like LRT.”

Aragon says politicians who use social media as a forum for discussion – which is what is currently happening – must understand the proper way to use it to their advantage.

“You can’t think of it as new media … it’s media,” she said. “And it’s about being social media savvy.

“But (politicians) also are out in the public. They don’t have the same sort of privacy as most people. There can be repercussions for something that’s said online – there are lots of people who aren’t cognizant of that.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Sidney designer showing killer collection at Van Fashion Week

A young Sidney designer is showing her 14 piece collection Obsidian Nights at Vancouver Fashion Week

WATCH: Oak Bay wins regional skating competition

Winning tradition continues leading up to provincials

Greater Victoria MP Randall Garrison calls on Ottawa to extend peacekeeping mission in Mali

The Esquimalt-Sooke-Saanich MP just returned from a trip to Mali and Senegal

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

POLL: Will you be wearing pink to take a stand against bullying?

Schools and workplaces across Greater Victoria and around the province will be… Continue reading

B.C. skip Sarah Wark and team eliminated at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Nontheless pretty impressive stuff from the 24th-ranked team in the country

Pope’s sex abuse prevention summit explained

It’s A high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops the global problem

B.C. ticket holder winner of $25.9-million Lotto Max jackpot

Next draw set for Mar. 1 with an estimated jackpot of $10 million

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

Most Read