by Danielle Mario
The 2008 federal election has been filled with political flubs, because the parties don’t understand how to manage their online affairs properly, said Ira Wagman, a communications professor at Carleton University.
“In the first few weeks of the campaign, it has all been based on issues from the internet,” said Wagman. “Citizens online are bringing up these issues first, and the political parties aren’t as tuned in.”
There have been several controversies involving candidates of all stripes in the blogosphere.
B.C. New Democratic Party candidate Dana Larsen was the first, when an older video surfaced on You Tube that shows him smoking marijuana.
Two Conservative candidates also faced criticisms for online posts, with candidate Chris Reid resigning, and Ryan Warawa making a public apology.
Ontario Liberal candidate Rebecca Finch was also in hot water shortly after the Reid incident, when she posted comments about Stephen Harper related to cuts to federal arts programs .
In another instant, Elizabeth May’s spokesperson, John Bennet, threatened a Regina-based blogger with a lawsuit for posting links related to a video of May appearing on a political debate program last year and allegedly calling Canadians stupid.
Leftdog, who posted the May blog on his site, buckdog.com, said that Bennet apologized shortly after the online community – as well as the mainstream media – began highlighting the threat.
“I just don’t think some of these baby boomers understand the effect of bloggers,” he said. “This story was made real news. Politicians aren’t as cautious because they don’t see the impact that (blogging) has.”
In a province where there are only 14 ridings, Saskatchewan blogger Leftdog, as well as right-wing provincial counter-part, Kate McMillan, author of smalldeadanimals.com, have still managed to be cited in the top online blogs by CBC’s online election coverage, called Ormiston Online.
“We’re probably the most politically active province on per capita basis, right down to the family,” said McMillan. “Instead of pounding on kitchen tables, we’re now pounding on the keyboard.”
Political parties have also tried to infuse themselves into the online scene.
“They have tried, but they have ultimately failed,” said Wagman. “The Conservatives have invested most heavily (online) out of all the parties, and it shows, because they have had the most gaffs.”
But Wagman said that the missteps by parties online are to be expected.
“When you think that two elections ago, the idea of a blogosphere was a foreign concept, it’s easier to understand why the parties are confused with its usage,” he said. “In 20 years … we’ll see that this is an experimental period for the political parties.”
Blogs are low authority, and high transparency, which makes them a citizen’s friend, but a political party’s nightmare, said McMillan, adding that politicians should concentrate more on reading them.
"I don’t know if there’s a better canary in the coalmine for understanding what your party has at bay,” she said. “If the people online aren’t happy, you better get to work.”