City Council goes over the new social media regulation, eventually opting to push back serious restrictions until after the 2014 election.

Using social media in election debated

City council's draft policy won't drastically affect this year's campaigning

Toronto city councillors will soon be tweeting their thoughts on Twitter-handling during campaigns as council voted on Feb. 20 to prolong the debate on using social media for election campaigning.

Integrity commissioner Janet Leiper recommended council manage social media going into the election campaign, asking councillors to keep their professional and campaign accounts separate.

“The research that I’ve done at the request of council shows that social media is growing exponentially,” said Leiper. “City council is on the vanguard about a piece of policy here that is very new.”

Some councillors however doubted the potential sway social media will have in the upcoming election.

“Will one’s Twitter account win or lose an election? I don’t think so,” Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow said. “What matters is having a strong platform and knocking on as many doors as possible.”

The debate for many councillors is whether social media really impacts election outcomes, and whether they should therefore be expected to create new accounts — or use their personal accounts — to promote their candidacy.

Councillors are not allowed to use their position, or the City of Toronto logo, when creating their campaign accounts. In other words, they need to separate themselves from their position in city hall if intending to campaign online.

After watching the last few minutes of the women’s hockey finals — and narrowly voting to resume council rather than to watch overtime — council voted 32–4 to only partially restrict social media usage.

“Having this initial draft of a policy gives us a guideline … so we can deal with the beast that social media is later on,” Ward 33 councillor Shelley Carroll said. “We need a tight policy, far more lengthy than this one…. Let’s start with this one, and [expand on it] the day after the election.”

For the election this year, councillors still have freedom in where they post campaign promotion.

“I already have a separate election account,” Matlow said. “So I have my @joshmatlow account, which is [for] my personal life, and then I’ve also set up my election account. That’s where we’ll tell our followers about our fundraising events and election related issues.

“With or without this policy, I’ve already decided how I’m going to be using my social media,” Matlow said.