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photo illustration by Mico Mazza

Social networks are changing

our politics

IN JUST A few short years, social media has exploded. Websites such as and get more users every day, and their popularity continues to grow around the world. Although most of us might not use social media for much more than posting pictures and creeping exes, it has arguably become a powerful tool used in elections around the world.

The first election credited with taking advantage of social networks was the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States. Coined as the first president of social media, Barack Obama raised millions of dollars and recruited volunteers through the use of social media. With YouTube videos by fans of Obama and 10 million followers on Twitter, the Obama social media network was a well-oiled machine that could not be stopped during the presidential campaign.

Whether or not Canadian politicians are using social media as effectively as their American counterparts is debatable. The 41st federal election was the first Canadian election to use social media significantly, and currently the Ontario provincial election is following suit.

Alex Jurgen Thumm—the social media coordinator for Paul Étienne Laliberté-Tipple, NDP candidate for the Ottawa–Vanier riding–believes social media will play a significant role in elections to come.

“We are using Facebook for posting Paul Étienne Laliberté-Tipple’s schedule, posting campaign updates, keeping volunteers up-to-date with what needs to be done, as well as publishing issues and links to the party platform,” says Thumm.

Thumm, who has worked on two previous campaigns, argues social media can have a significant effect on the outcome of elections.

“Social media reaches out to more people. It puts information right in their hands,” he says.

On the contrary, Daniel Stockemer, a professor of political studies at the U of O, is skeptical about the role social media plays in elections.

“Social media has some potential, but I don’t think it’s especially geared toward politics,” says Stockemer.

“It has a big impact on those who are already converted. It facilitates discussion and campaign activities, and it can also send a message to supporters. For those who are interested and who want to participate, it gives them additional possibilities to participate. I don’t necessarily think it will reach those who are disenfranchised.”

According to Christina Campo, a University of Ottawa third-year translation student, social networks have made learning about the elections a lot easier.

“My friends who were really involved in the campaign would post pictures and links, and because it was on Facebook, and because it was more accessible to me, I was more likely to click on the link and read what the article was.”

To date, social media has only been used in a handful of elections, so it is difficult to say how significant its impact has been. It has the potential to be a very powerful tool for politicians, but as it stands, popular culture is beating politics to the punch. Just take a look at Lady Gaga’s 43 million “likes” on Facebook compared to Stephen Harper’s 65,000.

Kathryn Shermack