Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook might just have a direct effect on the outcome of B.C.'s municipal elections in 2014.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook might just have a direct effect on the outcome of B.C.'s municipal elections in 2014.

EDITORIAL: Social media already plays a role in election

The 2014 municipal election may be the first where social media can be seen to have a direct effect on the outcome.

Facebook, and other social media, have played supporting roles in the last few elections. But the 2014 municipal election may be the first where they can be seen to have a direct effect on the outcome.

It’s already had a direct effect on one young aspirant to the mayor’s chair, who declared his intention to run Friday morning and withdrew Friday evening, after some inappropriate Facebook posts he made last year came to light.

That’s a lesson learned for the young man, and one way social media has already affected the outcome of the Nov. 15 municipal election. Then there is the recent dissolution of the TimeforchangePenticton Facebook page and the resulting development of the Educate Encourage Empower #Penticton group.

These are people talking about the change they want to see in politics, which is a good thing and will make them a force on Nov. 15. Still, watching the discussion on both those groups, you see how often opinion gets substituted for fact, and how fast discussions get hijacked or devolve into personal attacks and other forms of abuse.

It’s nothing new. This kind of behaviour is a well-known phenomenon for online discussions, dating back to the beginnings of the internet and the old IRC chat channels. In 1990, Mike Godwin jokingly stated what has become known as Godwin’s Law, that if an online discussion goes on long enough, the likelihood of a comparison to Hitler or Nazism becomes inevitable.

We’re not suggesting any of these local forums have gone that far, but the lesson here for voters, as social media becomes evermore a source of political information free from checks and balances, is to do your own research.

Most importantly, never vote based on someone else’s beliefs and judgements. Learn to separate opinion from fact, and remember that even the most well-meaning people may be sharing inaccurate information.