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Social media change election landscape

In Orillia
Sep 23rd, 2010

With a quick Facebook message, Orillians are having municipal candidate’s signs erected on their lawn.
Social media are playing a big role in the upcoming municipal election, says Michael Johns, a political science professor at Laurentian University at Georgian College.
“It would be pretty hard now to run a serious campaign without an (online presence,)” Johns said on Tuesday. “It doesn’t appear as legitimate. You can be as legitimate, have an good idea as everyone else, but it’s now viewed as the seriousness of your campaign would be matched by the fact that you’re reaching out to the electorate in as many ways as possible.”
Having a website and email address have become a necessity in an election campaign at all levels of government.
Facebook and Twitter help make a candidate’s platform even more accessible, Johns said.
The only council candidates who didn’t provide an email address to the city as part of their publicly listed contact info are Ward 1 incumbent Wayne Gardy, and Ward 4 candidates Janifer Tissington and Jeffrey Melvin Olimer.
Of the mayoral candidates, Ralph Cipolla is using Twitter, Facebook and a website to connect with voters; Tim Lauer has Facebook page and a website, while Angelo Orsi has a website.
Whether or not a candidate has an online presence could sway votes, Johns said.
“If you hand out a piece of literature at a door and that person doesn’t happen to be home, well nowadays, it gets treated like junk mail. (They) might just literally pick it up and throw it out,” he said. “All that cost, all that time to deliver that item and edit it and everything gets completely wasted.”
Putting a platform online makes it easily accessible and gives the electorate a venue to ask questions and receive a personal response from the candidate, Johns said.
“The public… feels that the candidate is listening, particularly if they’re responding. (Community members) feel if I elect this person, they are going to listen to me,” he said. “It lets you interact with the voter in many more ways than just simply going to the door.”
The benefit of using Facebook and Twitter is that it can attract people who wouldn’t go to an all-candidates’ meeting or look up a candidate’s website.
“If people see that other people have commented on (a candidate’s message) or ‘like it,’ that gives them an opportunity to say ‘OK, maybe I will check this out,’ and that would hopefully lead a person… to become engaged in the political process,” Johns said.
Though he had some trouble learning Twitter, Cipolla is using three social media avenues to connect to voters.
“It’s easier because now they don’t have to pick up a phone. They can now tweet you or email you,” Cipolla said. “It gives you an opportunity to stay in touch with your voters.”
His team has been regularly updating his Twitter and Facebook statuses, inviting friends to join him at various events.
Using social media has been working “extremely well” so far, Cipolla said, adding it’s helped him reach young voters.
“It’s a great way to get the younger generation — who are Internet literate — to get involved in municipal elections and I think that is key,” he said.
Lauer has been using a website to communicate with Orillia residents for four years.
“It’s been converted to represent my election platform,” he said. “I think the websites are critical. It’s like adding five pages to a brochure. They get a lot more information, can read it at their own leisure and be as informed as they like.”
Lauer has been learning to use Facebook to connect with even more voters.
“I have been surprised by some of the responses — simply things like people requesting signs, or requesting information about how to get involved,” Lauer said. “Originally, I thought Facebook was a young social media, but the more I’m looking at it, I’m seeing an awful lot of people my age, so I would say it’s a fairly effective tool.”
Orsi, who often communicates with The Packet through email, has a website, but doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter.
“I am presently using a website to connect to the electronic reader and researcher,” Orsi said in an email response. “As for Facebook and Twitter, I have not yet decided to sign up… I am hesitant to go with Facebook at this time because I do not want my address book accessed through this sort of social media. Once I find a secure way to get online, I will probably use the Facebook and Twitter media. It seems like a fun way to communicate.”

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