No Facebook friendship from UMSU elections

Though social media may be heavily integrated into students’ lives, University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) election candidates voted not to allow campaigning using sites such as Facebook in this year’s election.

The decision was made after a lengthy discussion at a Feb. 18 all-candidates meeting, where chief returning officer Jason van Rooy ultimately cast his vote as a tiebreaker.

Van Rooy explained that he is allowing candidates to use Facebook to contact friends and look for volunteers for their campaigning “much the same way they would use their personal email or the directory in their cell phone — because Facebook is such an integral way in how people communicate with their friends and with the people they know and their social circles.”

However, candidates cannot use their Facebook pages to post campaign materials. To monitor this, van Rooy explained that he has added all the candidates on Facebook, with himself and the deputy returning officers checking their pages at random.

“We’re confident, based on the way that the candidates voted [ . . . ] and discussions we’ve had about the matter with candidates themselves, that people are going to be very careful about what they put up,” said van Rooy.

Van Rooy explained that the one of the main arguments brought up during the discussion was over privacy, and the possibility of voters’ anonymity being compromised.

“[ . . . ] If you are listed as supporting one slate and your picture and your profile are attached to one slate’s page, there’s a possibility that [ . . . ] the way that you voted is no longer anonymous and people who are now in office can use that against you,” said van Rooy.

Disabilities representative candidate, Bryan Douglas, said that although he found social media to be a great way for people to facilitate discussion, “with it being in its infancy [ . . . ] there’s not a lot of policing and ways of controlling what is said and who is saying what.”

“There’s no way of legitimizing any claims that do come forward right away,” he pointed out, saying that he felt social media site could cause issues that would interfere with the fluency and transparency of the elections.

“There could be issues that stem up, and none of us at the table wanted to be caught holding that hornet’s nest when something went wrong,” he said.

Working Together presidential candidate Camilla Tapp also thought that when social media is used respectfully it can be an effective way of reaching students and informing them of things, such as campaign details and points in candidate’s platforms. However, she echoed Douglas in saying that social media brought up concerns of content control.

“There would [ . . . ] be a great deal of risk involved, especially considering as a candidate you would be personally held responsible for any dialogue that shows up with or without one’s consent. If the content is a breach of the campaign bylaws and supplementary rules, there could potentially be serious consequences,” said Tapp.

Clean Slate presidential candidate Tyler Omichinski said that his slate found issues with the permanency of Facebook and the Internet in general.

“Win or lose for our team, when it’s done, it should be over. The nature of Facebook, the permanency of it online — once it’s out there, it’s there forever,” said Omichinski.

Candidates for the Get More slate disagreed with the decision not to allow Facebook and other social media platforms in this year’s campaign, explained Get More campaign manager Stephen Howatt.

“We think some legitimate compromises could have been made to make it work, but the other slates voted against it and there’s nothing we could really do.”

“We think voter turnout’s really going to be affected by it. [ . . . ] To not involve this sort of thing is a huge void,” said Howatt.

Despite not allowing candidates to use social media to advertise their platforms, van Rooy said he does foresee a time where social media will be a part of UMSU elections, noting that student union elections at most campuses are almost entirely online, something which van Rooy finds disappointing.

“Because the first election I was ever involved in, I sat on the floor next to a big blank wall from seven o’clock in the morning to 6 p.m. the day that the campaign started to make sure that no one got the banner spot my candidate wanted. I had to be physically involved [ . . . ],” he said.

“If all you need to do to win an election is sit behind your computer and send out a blast on Facebook, then it really distances you from the students you purport yourself to represent.”