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Campaign trail takes to the web
Social media a stronger presence in current election than ever before

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One half of all Canadians now have a social networking profile, with Facebook and Twitter dominating the social media landscape according to a recent survey by global marketing and research company Ipsos.

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David Brock, pictured above on Friday at the Elections NWT headquarters on Yk Centre East, is the chief electoral officer for the 2011 NWT election. He lays out the rules for candidates choosing to use social media sites during the election campaign. - Katherine Hudson/NNSL photo

With election season ramping up to a territorial election on Oct. 3, many incumbent MLAs and other candidates are faced with a multitude of outlets on which to campaign.

Beaton MacKenzie is running for the Range Lake seat in the legislative assembly and currently works with special needs students at Sir John Franklin High School. Working with people who are youth, most not yet at the age to vote, he said social media is a huge player in their lives.

"Anybody from 35 and under -- that age group -- a lot of them use social media," said MacKenzie.

"We will have a web-page and e-mail. My support group, they decided to stay away from Twitter," he said, noting it was a personal choice.

Frame Lake incumbent Wendy Bisaro is reining in on a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account during her campaign. She has noticed elections have changed hugely in the last four to 10 years, with her campaign's web presence in the 2007 territorial election consisting of a website.

She said the Internet is playing a much larger role this campaign, as she now has Facebook and Twitter at her disposal.

"I'm looking to do anything I can to engage voters If being accessible through social media can do that, then that's the way we need to go," said Bisaro.

Social media sites such as Facebook allow candidates to appear personable and engaging while presenting their platforms, and Twitter allows real-time feedback or responses to the public.

Elections NWT chief electoral officer David Brock said rules for general election campaigns must also shift and adapt to the new message media available to candidates.

He said there needs to be an identification notation somewhere on the bio page for Twitter or on the information page for Facebook, made up of the name of either the sponsor or the official agent and a telephone number.

"The reason for that is that the public knows who is responsible for election messages," he said. "It doesn't have to be on every tweet or every post on Facebook, but it should be reasonably accessible by a viewer on the main page."

Brock said election expenses must be accounted for and reported in the candidates' financial report, including any expenses for websites or other advertisement platforms.

"Probably one of the benefits of social media is they often don't cost money," said Brock.

He said if the candidate pays someone to manage a website or social networking site, that would be an election expense.

The pre-election period runs from June 5 to when a person has their nomination papers accepted by a returning officer, which is when candidates can start to receive contributions.

Brock said on polling day, Oct. 3, and the day prior, the prohibition on broadcasting spreads to social media as well.

"During that time period you can't put out any new television ads or radio ads If it's something that has already been posted, already been tweeted, a YouTube video that's already up, that's OK, you don't need to take that down; but you can't have any new posts or new videos put up, new websites launched during those two days."

Brock said the marketing plan for Elections NWT has been to use a website and Facebook as its first place for information for the election.

"This has been a pretty fundamental shift, in my view ... as the news medium has started to change we need to change along with it," he said. "We've seen how valuable this strategy played out for us because we've gone from somewhere around 40 hits a day on the website in the early part of the summer, and now we're starting to push up to 1,000 hits a day."

There will also be a change in terms of how Elections NWT reports results on the night of Oct. 3.

In the past, Brock said there was a large gathering in the Great Hall of the legislative assembly with results written on a whiteboard -- only those in attendance knew the results right away. This year, Elections NWT will report results online for the first time and Brock said it is up to the legislative assembly to decide if a gathering will take place in the hall.

"We've created a results reporting system whereby our election officers across the territory can enter results from all of the polls. We see that in real time and we'll publish the results to our website," he said. "Now anyone who has access to the Internet has access to the results."

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