During the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, and the party primaries that preceded it, the Barack Obama machine created a political revolution.
Bolting together social media components and demonstrating an understanding of notions like branding and engagement allowed the Obama campaign to raise funds, organize locally and, most importantly, get out the vote in a key demographic that had been staying away from the polls in droves.
Canada’s first social media federal election is over. While all the major parties opened their eyes and arms to social media, it’s not quite the inspiring story that the Obama victory was.
Social media-wise, the campaign wasn’t about engagement so much as alienation. A university student was denied access to a rally for Conservative leader Stephen Harper after a campaign aide spotted photos of her with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on her Facebook page. A Green party candidate in British Columbia resigned over a favourite quote on his Facebook page raised a furor. Candidates flocked to Twitter, then didn’t update much. At least campaign trail photos and video made it to Facebook and Web pages. (Interestingly, the photo section of the Conservative party Web site exclusively features pictures of Harper on the campaign trail; the Liberal Web presence is similarly dominated by Ignatieff, though it’s not as obvious because the material is mixed in with video clips and ads.)
In fact, it was everyone but the politicians who managed to leverage social media successfully during the campaign.
Members of the press who followed the campaign were all over Twitter, offering real-time, if abbreviated, coverage. It was a balance between the unmediated (by virtue of its immediacy) and the mediated (as in, mediated by years of experience and journalistic standards), and of straight fact, opinion, debate, humour and calling out.
Issues of freedom of expression were front and centre, too, thanks to Elections Canada’s warning to not tweet election results from the east before the close of polls in the west. Some vowed they would tweet regardless, and some vowed they’d tweet inaccurate results.
Activists from outside the party structure, from party-line “citizen” bloggers to ShitHarperDid.com, contributed their two cents, with varying degrees of elegance, humour and credibility.
And we saw the first candidate propelled into candidacy by virtue of his social media cred. Christopher White, a University of Alberta student, ran as an independent in Edmonton-Strathcona, largely on the strength of his Facebook campaign to stop the prorogation of Parliament by Harper last winter.
So, no, this hasn’t been the epoch-making social media election we’d anticipated. But if we judge by the metric of voter turnout, it can only be considered a success. A vast improvement over last years’ election is almost guaranteed — its was the lowest on record.