Social media allows public to vet candidates, too

Today marks the end of the “nine days of scandal” promised by politics and satire news website The True North Times. They promised to reveal past remarks by nine candidates each day from Sept. 22 to Sept. 30. And in their digging, they’ve hit some gold.

The campaign’s biggest fish landed so far has probably been Alex Johnstone, the NDP candidate for Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas. Seven years ago, Johnstone made a dumb joke on a friend’s Facebook photo of Auschwitz about how the pillars holding up an electric fence look “phallic.” The comment itself was dumb, but what followed was probably Johnstone’s bigger mistake. In defense of her seven-year-old comment, she claimed ignorance and said she didn’t know what Auschwitz was. Many have criticized her for this and claim she had to have known.

Conservative candidate Tim Dutaud was dropped after his crude prank call YouTube channel was discovered, Liberal candidate Joy Davies left the race after someone found controversial comments she made about marijuana and NDP candidate Morgan Wheeldon resigned when comments made about Israel brought him more attention than he wanted.

I lost track at about 15 candidates who had got themselves into trouble this election year – many of them because of comments they made in the past on social media.

Social media, as a communications platform, has now fully matured – but as evidenced by the parade of candidates being led out in shame over embarrassing, hateful or ignorant posts they’ve made in the past, its users aren’t quite there yet.

Sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have proven promising archives of past indiscretions for those looking to do some extracurricular vetting, but how far should we go back? To what extent do we want to hold people accountable for the kind of mindless crap most people put on Facebook? I guess that’s up to those who read it, but we should be mindful of the fact that we only get to do this for a couple more elections before everyone is the wiser. If everyone figures out how to stay on message all the time, public discourse will undoubtedly suffer, and who knows what people are really thinking if so disinclined to be verbose on social media?

When I started using the Internet in the mid-to-late ‘90s, no one really used their real name online. Everyone went by a handle, allowing them the anonymity a fake name afforded, and along with that anonymity, fewer inhibitions to say what you really thought, even if you probably shouldn’t. This continued until Facebook came along, and it came with a big request – it wanted you to use your real name online. To my surprise, people were buying into this, so I bought into it, too.

Facebook grew and grew, and with it, the amount of people using their real name online did too. After seeing what anonymity could do to online discussion, I thought this might be a turn for the better, but looking at the state of things today, it seemed to do no such thing. People are still making hateful and ignorant posts, but now they’re (mostly) identifiable. So have things really changed? I guess so, but only if you’re running for public office, and I guess that’s something – at least for now. Less than three weeks to go.