Political Ethics On Twitter & Ontario Elections #voteON
With the start of the 40th Ontario Provincial Elections campaign I noticed that the account “@OntarioPressSec” who I was following and followed me had changed their handle to become @LibPressSec. I had been following @OntPressSec/@LibPressSec since I tried to get Premier Dalton McGuinty’s recognition of Foursquare Day Toronto 2011 in April. I also noticed that now there was – clearly a new, placeholder account – @OntarioPressSec which doesn’t and hasn’t tweeted since its creation on September 2, 2011.
I am at war with myself over whether I agree with these tactics as being ethical during an election. As you can see in the picture above, the account which is being run by a staffer of the Liberal Party of Ontario identified itself in April as being “Media Office” who had a biography which read “Associate Press Secretary in the Office of the Premier of Ontario.” The placeholder @OntarioPressSec Twitter account says in its biography “Account not monitored. Please interact here: @LibPressSec.” It directs people to the Liberal Party of Ontario’s Twitter account with no direction to the Ontario NDP, or Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
During the time when the account which used to be the Media Office for the Premier of Ontario’s Office was just that it managed to amass 3,713 Followers as of the writing of this post, up from 2,275 in April – the election campaign officially began September 7, 2011 so make your own guess how many of those 1,438 followers that have been added since April came on since the beginning of the election campaign. I feel as though that is sort of wrong in a way and, again, unethical. I understand that the account cannot become the mouthpiece of the Liberal Party of Ontario while still under the name @OntarioPressSec during an election campaign but why should they get to bring over all those followers who wanted to know the goings on of the Government of Ontario to suddenly be inundated with Liberal Party tweets. As well, if Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals lose the election does the new government of Ontario get control of both the placeholder account and the one which is now a Liberal Party mouthpiece?
According to my TweetDeck results of the information about @LibPressSec the account was started June 29, 2010 – well into the Premiership of Premier Dalton McGuinty – so it has never served any other purpose (until now) except being a press secretary for the Office of the Premier. This means that anyone who had started following the account was following an account that, ostensibly, was that of the provincial government but come election time it switched to being a partisan outlet. To me that is just wrong and unethical. Even though the account made clear to me when I mentioned it today that they had tweeted a whole bunch when the account switched over my question wasn’t about transparency it was about the right and wrong of doing what they did. Clearly, they are well able to start new accounts so why didn’t they tweet that the account was shutting down for the election campaign – as Ontario’s Legislature has been dissolved, there is technically no government in power right now – and would be back when legislature was back in session and in the hands of the the Office of the Premier of Ontario and not the Liberal Party of Ontario.
This is a whole new frontier of politics in the electronic age, I understand that. I mused about this today on Twitter and one of my friends – Mark Hoffberg aka @MarkHoffberg – tweeted at me that apparently the Federal Conservative Party did the same thing during the 41st Canadian Federal Election.
I do not agree with this being modus operandi during elections for any political party in any country, province, state or territory. To me it seems like an unfair advantage during the election campaign. Granted, right now the Twitter account in question which began this post is only being seen by 3,713 people in a province of 13,210,667 people but the point and principal of the matter remains the same. Now is exactly the time when we have to make these laws as the technology is still becoming new and to prevent massive possible advantages someday in the future. Democracy and our voting process is arguably the most important aspect of our Western society and most everything flows from it – we must protect it.
I will mention that I have no problem with Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) changing their Twitter account names during the campaign because even when they are in office they are partisan and, while they represent all those in their riding, they are still the same person during an election or not. The Press Secretary issue is them going from being the government’s account to being a party’s account and that is very different in my books.
What do you think? Am I going a bit too far on this? Or do you agree with me that the actions of the Federal Conservatives during the May 2011 Elections and the Ontario Liberals during this October 2011 Election is unethical and wrong?