Home > Contemplations > Political Ethics On Twitter & Ontario Elections #voteON

Political Ethics On Twitter & Ontario Elections #voteON

@OntarioPressSec "Media Office" Twitter follow notification in my email

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?

Provincial party logos were taken from their respective Wikipedia pages and WERE NOT resized by me. They were put in alphabetical order going from top left to bottom right around the Twitter logo.

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?

  1. October 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    It’s an interesting topic – and you’re right to raise the question. There isn’t really a rule book on what is ethically correct or incorrect in this type of situation as it is so new.

    Like you, I was also shocked to discover I was following the @LiberalPressSec one day when I was going through my feed, as I hadn’t remembered following them. Upon asking, the operator(s) of the account did let me know they had changed the handle.

    Rightly so, they shouldn’t be spewing partisan information from the Ontario account.

    To me it seems as though each party should have an account for their press secretary, and the governing party should also use the Ontario Press Secretary account. This way, nobody has to question what they should be using during the leadup to an election.

    I’d like to point out an excellent use of social media in politics in my opinion – the New York Mayors Office. @nycmayorsoffice – and this account would be passed on to the next Mayor. Michael Bloomberg has his own Twitter account, and would obviously use @mikebloomberg if he decided to run for re-election. Unlike an account such as @TOMayorFord.

    • October 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      “To me it seems as though each party should have an account for their press secretary, and the governing party should also use the Ontario Press Secretary account.” <—- I agree with you Sabrina.

      I cannot comment on the @TOMayorFord account because I don't know how it was used BEFORE he got elected (and if he changed the handle). Even if he did, I think that is OK because he is a person. If he were to change the handle to @TOMayorsOffice then I would agree that would be wrong because it misrepresents who he is (or whoever is running the account).

      My basic theory as it stands right now is as long as there's a personal name in the account you can change it to include or remove whatever title you want. It is only when you use a government identifier as the name of the account a la "@OntPressSec" that you cross an ethical line.

    • Mark Hoffberg
      October 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      This is becoming sticky in a number of departments as the government enters the 2000’s and starts communicating on twitter/social media.
      The clear separation between government/partisan activites is required for a lot of MP/MPP office duties, time for elections Canada/Ontario to look at it.
      Thankfully I believe they set these types of election rules, otherwise why would any governing party want to give up the advantage.

      • October 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm

        Thanks for the comment Mark and I completely agree with you that Elections Canada as well as their provincial, territorial, and municipal counterparts should be looking into this sooner rather than later.

        However, from my quick reading on Wikipedia of their Elections Canada article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_Canada it seems that Elections Canada & their counterparts DO NOT set the rules, they merely administer the existing legislation.

        Even still, I don’t think any political party is stupid enough to believe themselves untouchable and won’t make a law about this that benefits only the party in power because things can/do/will change and then where does that leave them? Especially since, if they were silly enough to try to make something OK which gives them an significant advantage over other parties come election time don’t you think the less enfranchised parties will be shouting about it from the rooftops in unison while the bill is in Parliament and then (if it manages to pass) during the next elections?

  1. October 11, 2011 at 1:41 am

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