UMSU is now following you on twitter!

Candidates in this year’s University of Manitoba Students’ Union election might be able to make use of a new tool in their campaign: Facebook.

Jason van Rooy, the current chief returning officer (CRO) for the UMSU elections, explained that last year’s candidates discussed the issue and agreed not to use such tools during the campaign period, but the rule will be up for discussion during the forthcoming All Candidates’ Meeting.

Van Rooy said that the supplementary rules prevent the use of social networking in campaigns in order to maintain the integrity of the election rules, which call for all campaign materials to be reviewed prior to distribution.

Beyond the integrity of campaign materials, the rule is in place because some candidates may have hundreds of contacts on Facebook, giving them an advantage in reaching voters, an advantage that other candidates may take issue with.

Van Rooy said that ultimately, though, the inclusion or exclusion of social media in campaigning is up to the candidates.

Student union elections at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., have been utilizing social media for years, said Alanna Wallace, editor-in-chief of campus newspaper the Cord.

“I haven’t been a part of any election that hasn’t had social media,” said Wallace, who explained that candidates in last year’s election at Wilfrid Laurier made full use of Facebook and Twitter in their campaigns.

Wallace explained that candidates may use the social networking giants, but there are regulations they must follow, which are enforced by the CRO.

The CRO must have some power over the Facebook group and be a follower of a candidate’s Twitter. This is to ensure that the content of the social media follows regulations, and if it doesn’t, there are repercussions.

According to Wallace, candidates have made great use of social media, with one candidate recording and posting flash mob videos, and another candidate using the popular micro-blogging website Tumblr. Twitter is used to drive people to these websites, by getting the word out.

Wallace feels that, for the most part, the use of social media “gets people a little more involved since we are already on Facebook,” but Wallace points out that social media use in election campaigns has its pitfalls.

Wallace said that her job requires her to be completely impartial, but things often get posted on her wall in support of candidates and sometimes this becomes borderline spam.

“For example, some candidates have their personal poster as a picture, and they are tagging people in it or people in their campaign are tagging people in it,” explained Wallace.

“Since social media has more avenues to connect people, people are getting a little bit more peeved that they can be contacted through so many means. [ . . . ] It’s getting a little overwhelming, depending on who you’re friends with on Facebook.”

Wallace said that though content has led to overwhelming exposure to candidates, the actual nature of the content has been friendly between candidates.

Adding to their 21st century cred’ this year, for the first time, student union elections at Wilfrid
Laurier will be held online.

“I think it’s important they are trying to foster a good atmosphere between social networking and online voting,” said Wallace.

Wallace added that since this is the first year the university is trying online voting, there are worries about turnout and potential glitches, so there will still be some physical polling stations on campus.

Andrea Rounce, a lecturer in the U of M political studies department, explained that the first really big example in North America of social networking being used was during the last United States presidential election, in the campaign of now-president Barack Obama.

“I think we’ve had a couple of examples where [social media] has had a pretty big impact, but again we haven’t seen it used enough to really get a good sense of its impact in elections [ . . . ],” she said.

Rounce thinks that even before the election period, during the build-up, social media was used very effectively. It cultivated discussion and a lot of connection, particularly with younger potential voters.

“It’s a great way to connect people who are already interested in connecting, [ . . . ] so it has great potential in that respect,” said Rounce.

In another example of social media use, closer to home, Rounce pointed to the recent civic elections in Calgary, explaining that a lot of supporters were engaged and mobilized through the use of social media.

Rounce said though that even with all the engagement, if people don’t turnout and vote, the inclusion of social media doesn’t change much when it comes to elections.

“The key in an election is still voter turnout, so the question is really going to be whether or not these kinds of [social media] [ . . . ] will help get people to come out and vote. That’s hard to predict,” said Rounce.

Election season officially begins here at the U of M at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 and runs until polls close on March 11.