Two of Saskatchewan’s main political parties are taking their campaigns to a corner of the Internet typically reserved for twenty-something socialites.
Each of the three major political parties in the province have an online presence, but the NDP and Liberal parties are meeting people—even collecting volunteers—using the social networking site, Facebook.
“People are glued to their Facebook accounts right now,” said Ryan Androsoff, Liberal candidate for Saskatoon-Northwest.
“You have to be able to reach people in the medium they are most comfortable with.”
It’s no substitute for door knocking, but with around 25 per cent of his volunteer base coming solely from Facebook contact, he says the technology is worth harnessing.
While the NDP and Liberals have links to candidates with Facebook profiles right on their websites, the Saskatchewan Party isn’t quite so quick to jump on the bandwagon.
She has a personal Facebook account, but Martensville candidate Nancy Heppner says that’s as far as it goes. The party would rather have her focus her efforts on door knocking.
“People can contact me directly through the party’s website,” Heppner said. “I think that’s effective.”
According to Delisle based blogger Lance Leveson, staying clear of open forum dialogue while on the campaign trail is a wise decision.
“There were several incidents that killed people’s chances of getting elected,” said Leveson, noting NDP Swift Current candidate Jeff Pott’s exit from the campaign race after comments he made on a website.
Androsoff said “new media,” including Facebook and blogs, are democratizing agents in the political process.
“People are getting their information from a variety of sources now,” he said, noting the heightened accessibility could lead to increased political involvement.
But Leveson rejected this claim citing the Ontario election, the religious schools funding debate, and the fury it caused in the blogosphere.
“It didn’t matter if you were a garden blog, somebody at one point had a post about religious schools,” he said. “And yet they had the lowest voter turnout ever for an election.”
Leveson believes people shouldn’t put much stock in Facebook, referencing the cyclical downturns of other online networking tools like Myspace and Hi5.
Fellow Saskatchewan blogger John Klein, or SaskBoy, says politicians can use Facebook so long as they everyone else realizes it’s a promotional tool.
“It’s completely different then someone using it as a way to connect with their lost classmate,” Klein said, who is also an online consultant for the Liberal party.
Androsoff’s Facebook identity is managed by his campaign team. He says Facebook, in all of its future reincarnations, is something parties will need to keep in mind when developing their campaign strategies.
“I’m happy the party’s moving in that direction as well.”