Candidates weigh value of social media in campaign

One of the lesser-known candidates running to be mayor of Toronto says the outcome of this municipal election may not just be a new mayor, but a new voter.

Candidate James Di Fiore, entered the mayoral race after hearing that only 18 per cent of 18-to-35-year-olds voted in the last municipal election in 2006. His goal in running for election is not to become the next mayor of Toronto, he says, but to increase turnout among young voters.

He is just a click away on the social networking sites Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, as well as having his own blog and campaign website.

“If you want to reach young people by going where they are,” he said, “they’re in front of their computers.”

The people behind the Twitter hashtag #voteTO had a similar objective by aggregating Twitter posts about the municipal election. Darcy Higgins is one of the young people behind #voteTo and thinks Twitter is a good platform for candidates to share information and interact with the voters.

“We noticed… not a lot of engagement, especially from young people in the election, so we wanted to … make the election … a little more engaging and raise issues that we thought were important,” Higgins said. “Social media has perhaps got more young people engaged.”

Accumulating Facebook friends or Twitter followers won’t determine who becomes mayor or councillor, according to Higgins. The political campaign remains mostly unchanged from the last municipal election, before the days of Twitter.

“The leading candidates are really the ones that have a clear message and the ones that knock on as many doors as they can. And then social media is just a way to convey that message,” Higgins said. “You still need a personal touch, in the human form, with voters.”

Di Fiore conducts the majority of his campaigning from the comfort of his apartment, via the Internet. While he uses Twitter and contributes to #voteTO, he is wary of its value.

“Twitter gives the appearance of being effective… You’re… blindly posting something with a link in the hope that people go out and check that link,” Di Fiore said. “Twitter is a shell of what communication is supposed to be like.”

There are candidates who are not utilizing any social media tools at all. You won’t find Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre incumbent Doug Holyday using Facebook or Twitter. He prefers to let the media do the talking for him, and let voters make up their minds.

“I think that if anyone wants to find out anything about me, it is documented. It’s not just me saying these things; it’s the reporting of others. It gives a fairly true picture of me. Not everything is flattering, and not everything I agree with… and I think people can judge for themselves,” Holyday said.

While he might consider social networking tools in future elections, Holyday doesn’t feel that a lack of presence on the Internet puts him at any sort of disadvantage in the campaign.

“I’ve viewed what the others have put out and I don’t think it’s going to change the lay of the land that much,” Holyday said. “I get the old-fashioned campaign. It works for me.”