This year, the supplementary rules for the upcoming University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU) election campaigns bans candidates from using Facebook.com to gain support for their campaigns.
After the supplementary rules were brought to UMSU council during their last council meeting, a handful of members expressed their dissatisfaction with the rule.
Some thought that election campaign methods should reflect the growing and changing methods of media, such as social online networking. Others expressed that the use of Facebook would not give any party an unfair advantage, since all candidates have access to computers on campus.
The supplementary rules were first drafted by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), Jason Van Rooy, then after discussion and amendments, the Campaign Expense and Advisory Committee decided upon them, and finally were ratified by UMSU council votes.
Despite concerns by a number of UMSU council members during the meeting, the motion to accept the supplementary rules package was passed.
Rooy said the main reason Facebook has been banned is because Facebook’s privacy settings make it so that the CRO’s office is unable to ensure that only approved materials are being used.
“Bylaw 800 of the students’ union clearly outlines that the CRO is to ensure that the election is fair and safe, and free of slander, racism and homophobia. [ . . . ] There is a distinct possibility that rules would easily be broken without anyone responsible for monitoring the election finding out until significant damage had already been done to another campaign.”
The question about whether loopholes may exist has also come up. To this, Van Rooy said, “With any rules, there are those who will find a way around them. I have endeavoured to make these rules as comprehensive as possible, so that candidates and sides are as well informed as to what is acceptable and what is not as they possibly can be.”
However, he hopes that people will not try to “manipulate the system,” but will campaign fairly.
Adam Cousins, who ran for UMSU president against Sid Rashid last year, said, “Tools such as Facebook and any other social networking site are too powerful to see use in UMSU elections. However, if last year’s campaign proved anything, it’s that the CRO cannot effectively control the use of the Internet.”
Last year, similar rules were set in place, banning the use of Facebook. However, according to Van Rooy, a third party had created a Facebook page which resulted in the past CRO allowing Facebook usage for both sides for the last 3-4 days of the election.
Cousins said he filed many complaints to the CRO about the other campaign group using Facebook so that the CRO would take action against it.
He said, “What [the previous CRO] did was open Facebook to all sides instead of penalizing the eventual winners. Their prior Facebook use was something that my side could never recover from.”
Sid Rashid, current UMSU president, said, “This ruling remained until the afternoon of the last day before voting, when the CRO determined a third-party Facebook page was being used as a front group in support of the opposing slate. This resulted in the ruling that Facebook would be open to both sides.”
Had Van Rooy been the CRO last year he may have made a different decision in response to the rule violation.
He said, “I believe the right course of action would have been to ask the member of the union who had broken the bylaws and rules to comply immediately and remove the material which had been posted.”
According to the bylaws and rules set in place, failure to comply could result in penalties such as fines in the reduction of campaign budget allowance, or even disqualification.
The use of other online methods to reach a mass amount of people, such as sending mass emails will also be monitored.
Van Rooy said, “Emails must be approved by the CRO prior to being sent, just as any other campaign message, radio announcements, videos, posters, etc. [ . . . ] Mass emails to lists which were not gathered by the candidates themselves during the campaign period, however, would not be allowed.”
In last year’s election, Rashid said he advocated for Facebook to be used because he felt it was a good way to encourage students to get involved in their campus community.
He said, “Personally, I still believe that Facebook is a good tool for communicating with students, and in theory it would be an asset to elections of any kind. That being said, I do understand the reasoning behind this decision and I respect the ruling of the CRO.”
According to Van Rooy, possible changes to this rule will ultimately be left up to the candidates if they can all agree that Facebook usage is appropriate for the election.
He said, “I invite proposals from students or candidates outlining a method of monitoring Facebook effectively as a campaign tool.”
The CRO will accept requests for changes to any rule until 6 p.m. on Feb. 22, the start date of the campaign.