Candidates embrace social media platforms

Penticton politicians getting their message out though the Twitterverse

  • Nov. 17, 2011 1:00 p.m.

There are tweeps talking about the election, and politicians are starting to listen in.

Social media has taken a political turn as elected officials, would-be politicians, back-room players and the electorate have begun online discussions on various platforms like Twitter, Facebook and online blogs.

On Twitter, users had been using the #Penticton stream to find out events and happenings in the community, but the hash tag morphed several weeks ago into #PentictonVotes — becoming a de facto news feed on issues like bike lanes and municipal finances, scheduled candidate appearances and the general importance of voting.

Users have sourced stories, documents and letters about candidates and the issues, and what was once a slow dissemination of information has turned into rapid-fire election debate.

Incumbent Mayor Dan Ashton admits upfront that his kids have been a big help in embracing new forms of communication on the Twitterverse.

“It’s a brand new experience for me. It is important,” he said, adding that more people demand to discuss the issues via Facebook pages and Twitter.

“I’m surprised by the number of people that are utilizing those resources now. It’s a different world.”

That new world means adjusting personal practices, as well. Ashton said he typically prefers to read physical material — that old fashioned thing called paper — but has found even his method of media consumption is shifting.

“I’m a voracious reader. I get up very, very early in the morning to read. That’s my time with it, find out the day’s events. But even myself, I find myself gravitating more to the computer,” he said.

Challenger Julius Bloomfield was the first mayoral candidate to create a Twitter profile, and chuckles about being considered the “veteran Tweeter” in the race.

“I enjoy social media a lot more than I thought I would,” he said. “It’s not going to replace traditional forms of communication. But it will add to them and enhance them. That’s my intent, to use social media as an enhancement of traditional forms of communication. They can all work together.”

Elected officials and those seeking public office can also find themselves up against faceless, nameless critics posting material online to blogs. Bloomfield said pseudonyms do provide a shield for those keen to rant, but the phenomenon is not all bad.

“You also get some honest feedback from people. They have some concerns and they can voice them with anonymity. That’s important feedback to get,” he said.

Katie Robinson said she’s on Facebook, but not Twitter because her “thumbs aren’t fast enough to get Twitter yet.” She recognizes, however, that tapping into the next generation does require alternate forms of communication: elected officials might tout their accessibility via cellphone, but young people are more fond of texting.

“It’s like talking another language. If you spoke Spanish and I spoke English, and I kept saying, ‘Phone me anytime, I’m accessible, I’m accessible.’ You hear, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah,’” she said. “Some of us are saying, ‘Phone us, we’re accessible,’ but they’re saying, ‘Yeah, but we don’t speak that language.’”

Vic Powell said he’s on Facebook, but ready to pull the plug given the prevalence of people collecting friends for the sake of collecting friends.

But the former military officer said he’s astounded by social media’s affect on the world stage, and how it has connected masses struggling under oppressive regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.

“They see what’s happening in the western world. They see who’s free. You know who’s doing it? It’s not the older people. It’s the younger people getting involved. They’re wanting change, and they’re going to have change,” he said.

Video has spawned revolutions, Powell said, because of the impact images have while requiring no language translation or interpretation.

“Before all it was was words. Now they’re seeing video. It’s the video that’s kicked it off,” he said. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It is.”