The dangers of past actions by federal candidates on social media hit the South Island last week as two Liberal candidates dropped in a matter of days.
Victoria Liberal candidate Cheryl Thomas dropped out on Sept. 30 after it was learned of previous Facebook comments that called mosques brainwashing stations, among other comments.
Thomas’ withdrawal came just two days after another Liberal, Maria Manna, pulled out of the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford race. Manna backed out as a series comments linked her to skeptics questioning the truth of the 9-11 World Trade Center attacks.
Social media as an Achilles’ heel is nothing new for candidates, but this election has raised questions about vetting the candidates, says Michael Prince, the Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at University of Victoria.
“Traditionally parties had questionnaires for candidates and they would be screened, it wasn’t unlike a job application,” Prince said. “Obviously parties need to do a greater checking of [candidates’] digital footprints.”
Maclean’s magazine, among others, have credited Montreal-based blogger Robert Jago’s site, Rjjago.wordpress.com, for ending the campaigns of three Conservative candidates to date: Tim Dutaud (Toronto–Danforth), Blair Dale (Newfoundland) and Gilles Guibord (Montreal).
Prince said it’s worth remembering incidents where the past has come back to haunt a politician predates the Internet.
“There’s always been the risk of past coming back to haunt but now with millions on social media and so many comments, the risk is higher.”
This campaign is a learning process now that political parties have a better understanding of social media and how to use it as a positive tool for campaigning.
“It also means parties are learning about the darker side of social media,” Prince said.
“What’s surprising is that none of the parties were ahead of these issues. In most cases the parties have been caught flat footed and it hit them in the face.”
The joke, Prince says, is if you’re 10 years old and you have any aspiration of serving in public, get off social media now.