While the majority of politicians are active on social media, each one manages their virtual presence differently.
Twitter and Facebook offer ways to connect with candidates, but communicating on the Internet isn’t always a pleasant experience or an easy situation to diffuse.
Some resort to methods of blocking when comments are aggressive or distasteful, permanently banning accounts from interacting with them on social media in some cases.
Four local candidates in the upcoming municipal election weigh in on acceptable social media use and when it’s okay to press the block button.
Bill Smith – After the throne
Running for: Mayor
Twitter followers: 1,724
Social media team: Yes
Reasons for running: Born and raised in Calgary, Bill Smith believes his varied background makes him a capable leader. Smith spent over a decade serving as a firefighter, volunteering in the community and running his own law practice. He decided to take a shot at the top seat in April, confident he could make city hall economically sound while helping out small businesses.
“The first thing we have to do is to make sure we can work with a collaborative team in council,” he said. “I suspect we have a lot of areas where we can cut some costs, but we also need to help our small businesses be successful by cutting red tape.”
Views on social media: Smith admits he’s still learning the ropes of social media, but he works closely with his team to ensure his views are getting across on his virtual platforms. Tiffany Grisdale is the director of social media for Smith’s campaign, and her task is figuring out how to squeeze his messages into 140 characters or less.
Although Grisdale and Smith agree a strong social media presence is a great way to answer questions and connect with Calgarians, sometimes comments are littered with profanity and overly aggressive. “I haven’t had to block anyone yet,” Grisdale said, knocking on wood. “It would take quite a bit for me to block. I know some people are far more liberal with that block button than I am, but I think everyone should have the right to say what they want.”
Grisdale added every politician has a different threshold when it comes to blocking and social media use, but she said Smith isn’t the type of person to send out tweets during council meetings.
Jyoti Gondek – The newcomer
Running for: Ward 3
Social media team: For the technical side, but responses are always her own
Twitter followers: 926
Reasons for running: Although Jyoti Gondek is a newcomer to the electoral race, she’s volunteered with various committees and boards for 17 years. With a PhD in Urban Sociology and MA in Organizational Sociology, Gondek spent four years with the Calgary Planning Commission and five on the board of the Northern Hills Community Association. Gondek said she considered herself an influencer with her community involvement and work with the City of Calgary, but she decided she was ready to become a decision maker instead.
Gondek believes the needs of Ward 3 are underrepresented and council marginalizes the concerns of its residents. In the case of the Harvest Hills Golf Course land redesignation, she said both the engagement process and city research was insufficient. Gondek promises to champion issues within her own ward, but also to stimulate the economy through improving processes like city engagement processes and property tax assessment. “There’s a lot of members of council that have never been up here,” she said. “They’ve never actually physically been in the ward, but they have their own perspective of what it is.”
Views on social media: Gondek loves engaging with people on the “Twitter-verse,” but she believes no form of social media can replace talking to someone in person or over the phone. She said she’s visited more than 13,000 homes while campaigning. When residents aren’t home, Gondek makes sure they know she’s available to chat virtually or in person. While she’s a huge fan of the conversations on Twitter, she loves how Facebook gives her enough space to accurately respond to contrasting opinions. However, she’s experienced challenges on both platforms. “There’s people that just want to poke at you for no reason,” she said. “It’s finding the boundary for yourself that’s the hardest thing.”
As a fan of high socks, Gondek posted a picture of her Star Wars “rebel” socks on Twitter. Someone took the tweet out of context, accusing her of working with The Rebel Media when she was simply a fan of Jedi and lightsabers. The experience frustrated her, but she let it go. While she had to take down a vulgar comment on Facebook, she hasn’t had to block anyone yet, believing it’s better to respond to people who are upset rather than ignoring them.
Sean Chu – Ready for round two
Running for: Ward 4
Social Media team: Campaign manager is also involved
Twitter followers: 4,307
Reasons for running: Sean Chu is running for his second term because he’s committed to “looking after people’s wallets.” Some of his proudest accomplishments during his time on council include reading between the lines of expensive proposals and saving taxpayer money. “We were told the city has storm ponds that will cost $5 million dollars each to fix and city has over 170 of them,” he said. “I did some research and I continuously asked questions. I found out that the most expensive one is $1.7 million dollars… I brought this up at city council and saved the city over half a billion dollars.”
Chu plans to continue his work with managing costs if he’s re-elected, proposing a budget freeze in 2018 and cutting red tape for small business owners. As a former police officer, he’s is committed to building safer commutes, believing the Green Line LRT is a critical component to this vision.
Views on social media: Although Chu hasn’t changed his fiscally conservative mandate, he’s changed his social media habits. There were a few cases of his tweets making headlines in the past. “We all get caught in the social media,” he said. “Admittedly, at the beginning, I caused some storms and said some things I might have regretted. I learned from it – we’re human.”
In some cases, Chu used to block people, but now he doesn’t see the point. He doesn’t make the effort to respond to derogatory comments anymore. When people are upset with him over social media, he tries to reach out by calling them, saying “it’s never failed in four years” when he’s had a conversation without a keyboard in the way. “As a councillor, as a politician, personally I think I should be a bigger person,” he said.
Druh Farrell – Not done yet
Running for: Ward 7
Twitter followers: 10,500
Social media team: For Facebook and Instagram
Reasons for running: Even though she’s been on city council since 2001, Druh Farrell is ready for her sixth term representing Ward 7 residents. She said she’s learned important lessons during her time on council, learning how to “leave breadcrumbs” with each process instead of rushing from A to Z. “I enjoy getting things done and I’ve been effective,” she said. “I know the system at city hall and I’m excited about the new ward boundaries as well.”
In some cases, progress takes time – a lot of time in the case of green bins. “I brought forward the notice of motion for curbside recycling and green cart in 2002 and it’s just rolling out now,” Farrell said. “It was one of the first things I did.”
In addition to working on the Central Library, due to open next year, Farrell is also passionate about community renewal and supporting small businesses. If she’s elected for another term, she plans to continue her work on pedestrian safety, planning effective Crowchild Trail upgrades and establishing the Green Line as a “city-building” opportunity as opposed to just a “transportation project.”
Views on social media: Approaching 25,000 tweets, Farrell is always on Twitter having conversations and engaging with Calgarians. She shares news articles and political discourse, but she also tells her audience about situations like getting stung by a wasp while door knocking. “Maybe I share too much!” she said.
She loves to be challenged on social media, but she has no tolerance for abusive comments. She employs a “respectful workplace policy,” which requires her staff to disengage with disrespectful people until they return with an apology and are ready to have a civil conversation. Farrell has no problem with reporting and blocking fake accounts and bots on Twitter, as she’s been subject to attacks in the past. “Anyone that’s too cowardly to put a name and face to their ideas doesn’t deserve that engagement,” she said. “I don’t engage with them at all.”
Farrell knows it’s important to disconnect, turning her phone off during dinners and meetings. While she’s active on social media, she recognizes the importance of other forms of communication as well. Although Farrell operates her own social media within certain boundaries, she believes other councillors are free to define those boundaries themselves. “Everyone can manage their Twitter how they see fit,” she said.
Editor: Anna Junker | firstname.lastname@example.org