Social media in politics?

In the wake of comments made during the Paintearth County council meeting on Nov. 9 about concerns that Facebook was being used to backstab other councillors, the question arises, does social media belong in politics?

The presence of social media in our lives today has become as ubiquitous as television.  It is a medium that provides us with instant information about the happenings in our world.

We are in the age of social media.

Whether small town councillors want to believe it or not, this is where the world has gone. The President of the United States has a Twitter account.

Both Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman won mayorships of very large Canadian cities by running their campaigns through social media. Social Media Coach Sean Smith claims that Nenshi “put a huge effort into running a campaign that leveraged the reach of Facebook and Twitter, as a means of engaging the voters.” Kevin Engstrom of the Winnipeg Sun said “If there’s a local politician wannabe MPs should be following as an example when running their own social media pages, it’s Brian Bowman.”

Even ISIS is finding and recruiting their foot soldiers from around the world with the use of social media.

“To suggest that councillors should not be allowed to voice their opinions on social media is very behind the times”, said veteran Winnipeg journalist Kim Gesell, “They’re public figures.  They have to be able to stand behind the decisions they make. I have found that the only people who are against social media are the ones who are afraid or have something to hide.”

Elected officials are leaders voted into office to act as the “voice” for the people they represent.

Therefore these people have a responsibility to maintain a relationship with their ratepayers.  In addition to providing the public with accurate and honest information about their voting habits, they also need to be available to listen to new concerns from their division as well as prove to their supporters that they stand by their word and will continue to campaign for the very issues on which they based their platform.  Being connected to the public is a vital aspect of their position.

With that being said, having the ability to instantly communicate one’s disgruntled feelings does not make for good leadership.

Most people today have access to the internet and a mobile phone – the very tools that make social media so powerful.

However not everyone has access to a social media coach.  The knee-jerk reaction to an annoying situation or in the case of elected officials, differing votes over raising county taxes, combined with the power of instant media, creates problems in the optics of leadership.

Any business, committee, team or collective group of people with an objective, require one single voice to provide direction and focus.  Too many voices creates confusion and contributes to a lack of solidarity.

If councillors are able to post their moment to moment thoughts and/or feelings about any particular issue in the wake of a council meeting it has the potential to dismantle the semblance of order and create the appearance of a group lacking in professionalism and respect with competing values who are unable to come together to for the greater good of others.

Counc. Rocky Dahmer’s is absolutely right when he said “The power of a council is to recognize everyone has their own beliefs and opinions.  We have to listen to each other, respect each other and then come to a consensus.”

Counc. Walter Weber’s comment that Facebook should not be used to backstab other council members is also right.

Perhaps the discrepancy lies in the perception of what it means to backstab another person.

Voicing respectful concern on Facebook about an important issue that was voted down is not backstabbing.

It is essential that ratepayers know their elected representative is fighting for their cause.

Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg stated in his IPO letter describing Facebook’s purpose, values and social mission “We hope to change how people relate to their governments and social institutions.

“We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.”

The real issue isn’t whether elected officials are using social media but rather how they are using social media.

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