Internet technology and social media forever altering face of municipal election campaigns in Trail/Castlegar
Even just since our last general municipal election, the internet and new technologies are dramatically changing the way civic campaigns are designed and implemented in our region. From websites to Facebook pages, online polls, You Tube and video-taped addresses, technological options are phasing out other campaign methods while adding dramatically greater depth, detail, and interactivity to candidate communication, according to Castlegar city councillor Kevin Chernoff and Trail city councillor Sean Mackinlay.
Chernoff is a veteran politician who is currently seeking a fourth term on Castlegar council, and he said when he ran in his first election back in 2005, Facebook wasn’t even an option (it was created for Harvard students in February of 2004).
“Back then, we door-knocked a lot. We’d go to community events like hockey games and the parking lots of places like Celgar and Teck to hand out brochures,” he said. “It was a much smaller campaign then – you produced the brochure and that’s what you ran on. You couldn’t get into anywhere near the kind of detail you can now.”
Chernoff said he started on Facebook in January of 2009, not to campaign, but just with a personal page, “to keep in touch with family and friends – and play Farmville,” he added, laughing. “But even then, probably 80 per cent of my posts were about what was happening in the city and what functions were going on.”
As his following grew, he also added a Twitter account in March of 2009, subsequently winning third place for best Twitter feed from Kootenay Business (he was the only municipal politician named in the list).
“I’ve always been proud of this community, so I’m always out there waving the flag for Castlegar,” he said, adding he’s only putting up about a third of the campaign signs he did in previous elections, focussing instead on using new tech to get his message out.
“It’s way better for the environment than signs and brochures, and I can get real-time feedback on controversial issues like backyard chickens,” he said. “Besides, when you have a cluster of 20 election signs, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the crowd. Most of all, with social media we can have detailed, interactive conversations and really delve into the issues of the day.”
This year, Chernoff is taking it an extra step and, instead of just offering photos and posts, he’s videoing his positions on a variety of city-related issues and posting them on Facebook.
“I honestly think it’s the way of the future. People can get a much better sense of me than from just reading something I post,” he said. “It’s a great way of getting my message across, and people seem to like it – my average written post gets about 25 views, whereas my videos can get upwards of 800 views.”
Trail city councillor Sean MacKinlay has eschewed campaign signs altogether, and is working to drive traffic toward his website instead. He’s currently running for his second term, and said the technology has changed dramatically even since 2011.
“My website was much more basic, then,” he said, adding he’s started posting videos as well, now that the recording equipment is so accessible. “You used to have to go out and buy all this equipment – technology has become so ubiquitous now, you can shoot good quality video with just an iPhone or iPad.”
He said the main crux, for him, of using Twitter and Facebook is to drive voters to his website, where they can peruse his material to glean then information they think is important in a candidate, instead of having to sit through long-winded speeches from election hopefuls, and they can do it according to their own schedules instead of being at the mercy of candidate events.
“There’s only so much you can put in a newspaper, or address in an All Candidates Forum,” he said, adding a website is, “really handy because it lets people decide for themselves how much detail they’re interested in.”
Mackinlay did acknowledge that engaging and interacting with the public on social media or a website can be a dual-edged sword.
“The cloak of anonymity allows you to say anything at all without fear of reprisal – which is absolutely the greatest and absolutely the worst part of social media,” he said, adding Letters to the Editor are really the original social media, and saying he’d like to see it go even farther, with e-voting simplifying and streamlining the voting process for the electorate.
For good or evil, though, he said this is the direction elections are taking in the future, and that he intends to work very hard to make the best of it, both for residents and for his own campaign.