In today’s day and age, social media has become a key component in political campaigns across the country, and Chilliwack’s no different.

Social media and the civic election: how technology changed Chilliwack’s political playing field

With an ever increasing network of people, social media has become an important political force

As the weather cools and the leaves begin to turn and fall, there’s no doubt October has arrived. And in addition to bringing autumn to the Fraser Valley, this year October’s also brought the winds of change as a new election season—one unlike any other—descends upon us.

“The political landscape has changed in a few key ways,” explained Darren Blakeborough, an assistant professor at UFV who specializes in pop culture, new media, and social gerontology studies.

“It was probably the first Barack Obama campaign that highlighted how important social media could be in an (election). (He) used (social media) to engage young people in a way that hadn’t been done before to get them out to vote, which was a tipping point in his election.”

READ MORE: Come out and hear directly from Chilliwack municipal candidates

And while the race to become Chilliwack’s next mayor or a council member may not be quite as intense as running for president, or prime minister, the tools of the trade are the same because the name of the game—winning—is the same.

To win an election, politicians engage in campaigns they hope will lead them to the top. And the keystone in any solid campaign is communication: not only do candidates need to be able to effectively communicate their platform to voters, the general public is now accustomed to having instant access to its politicians.

“I was trying to be there always,” said Sharon Gaetz, who’s running for her fourth term as Chilliwack’s mayor.

“I was on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (because I could access) a group of the community and I wanted to be there with them. Social medial certainly has its positive points,” she said.

And although technology is often associated with a younger generation, “social media isn’t just a millennial thing—as they well know,” said Blakeborough.

“Their parents and grandparents are on Facebook and Instagram. Social media is an important tool in the modern electoral process.”

Starting in the late ’80s with communication methods such as bulletin board systems (BBS) and internet relay chat (IRC), technology and the internet have increased our ability to connect with each other despite geographical boundaries and allowed for the creation of social media.

Today, nearly two thirds of Canadians, almost 23 million people, have at least one social media account they use regularly, and a Pew Research Centre study reported 42 per cent of the country using social media on a daily basis for their news—fake or not—consumption.

“There’s a quote about social media I enjoy,” said Blakeborough with a chuckle. “Social media is fantastic because it allows everybody to have a voice. The downside to that is everyone has a voice.

“Social media gives (the public) direct access to the people they want to have access to, instantaneously. It’s great that way, but it can also be a cesspool,” continued the social sciences professor.

“And you have to protect yourself from that,” added Gaetz, who’s recently returned to Facebook after a nearly four-year absence. “I was looking after my soul when I escaped.

“I didn’t realize how much time I was spending with my computer on my knees,” she explained. But by opening herself up and engaging in the community’s discourse via social media, Gaetz says she exposed herself to every dark or nasty thought about her people were willing to post.

“I embraced (social media) really early and was a great fan until a very apparent loss of civility,” Gaetz continued. “We don’t believe in bullying in real life, so we always have to remember there’s a person on the other end.”

“I’ve watched the online space become highly polarized,” said Jason Lum, who’s running for his third term on council. That said, “I have used a variety of different channels to communicate since my election in 2011, (and) I totally dig (social media) as a communication tool to attract and engage constituents.”

Which is what brought Gaetz back to the fold: both the importance of social media in today’s society, as well as being on even footing with her political opponents, despite the lasting impression made by “keyboard warriors” after her last election win.

“Everyone’s doing it,” said Blakeborough matter-of-factly. “It’s part of the game.

”And social media allows the regular citizen to hold the fire to the feet of their elected officials (and) keeps them in account, which is a positive thing … a watchdog as it were (because) I think we might start seeing things happening (locally) like we saw in the States: that sort of takeover of the (online) discussion by bots.

“So (that means) it’s our responsibility to be aware of that, to fact check, and ignore the things that are ludicrous,” said Blakeborough.

To learn more about this year’s municipal election, and the candidates who are running, please visit the Municipal Election coverage tab on our website at theprogress.com/Municipal-Election.

Just Posted

Chilliwack Lions Club has a new place to call home

After more than five years without a headquarters, Chilliwack Lions Club moves into new hall

Sardis Falcons top Heritage Woods in field lacrosse opener

The Falcons rallied from a halftime hole to take a big win on the road in Port Moody.

Chilliwack prolific offender charged in four alleged incidents in 12 days

Branden Tanner busted for alleged smash-and-grab Nov. 30, then incidents Dec. 3, Dec. 8 and Dec. 11

Four companies vying to open cannabis stores in locations across Chilliwack

Rezoning applications for non-medical cannabis outlets pending, and some will require variances

Christmas cheer, crafts and music at Chilliwack and Yarrow libraries

Make festive ornaments out of old books while enjoying Christmas music at Chilliwack libraries

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Man dies after falling from B.C. bridge

Intoxicated man climbed railing, lost his balance and fell into the water below

Hundreds attend Hells Angels funeral in Maple Ridge

Body of Chad John Wilson found last month face-down under the Golden Ears Bridge.

B.C. animation team the ‘heart’ of new ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

The animators, largely based in Vancouver, ultimately came up with a creative technique that is drawing praise

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks

Meeting in Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases

Gas prices to climb 11 cents overnight in Lower Mainland

Hike of 17 cents in less than 48 hours due to unexpected shutdown of Washington state pipeline

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

B.C. fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

Most Read