Twitter Backfires For Politicians

[twitter]It has been 4 years since Barack Obama swept to power on the backs of what many hailed as a mastery of social media. Books have been written on the topic.

It has been 2 years since Naheed Nenshi became Mayor of Calgary employing a similar tactic of openness, and engagement.


In 2012, there is no excuse for a politician NOT to be on Twitter. Social media is not a flash in the pan, it has legitimacy, longevity, and effectiveness. For politicians not to be on Twitter, they recognize an inability to be innovative, open, and engaging.

Still, some try to turn on the social media machine just at election time. They start tweeting out policy platforms, broadcasting appearances for a few weeks while courting votes, only to turn the tap off once they win (or lose).

That is not how this game works. Social media is not something you turn on, it’s something you do. Always. And with that kind of “always on” mentality, there are massive pits that politicians can fall into causing social media backfires that can cost them votes.

Albertans go to the polls on April 23, an election many have seen coming for nearly a year. The social media savvy have been using Twitter to engage in policy discussions and platform debates. Unfortunately, while engaging the electorate in the debate, not all have done it in the best manner.


I have had no fewer than 4 interactions with members of one party that completely soured me on their reputation. One sitting MLA, one nomination candidate, one candidate, and party supporters all attacked me when debating various issues.

I have argued that political parties need to trust their supporters to spread the message by handing out ‘digital lawn signs‘. Banners, twibbons, and graphics that party faithful can use in blogs, twitter, and facebook to proclaim their affiliation and spread the gospel.

The problem arises when those who take the mantel of the party mantra are not trustworthy. In passionately defending their policy, the undecided voter sees not a supporter, but the party logo. The supporter becomes one with the brand and despite a leaders’ best intention, the branding is set.

I will not be voting for this party that had members, and supporters, attack debate on Twitter. When dealing with an undecided voter, you need to tread lightly, with respect. Undecided voters are valuable property that need convincing, and persuading instead of punishing.

In a parliamentary system, a team is sent to legislate with the team’s captain anointed as government leader. When social media is used aggressively, the team can bring down the leader a very slippery slope.


While this may cause many politicos to lock up the dogs and dial down the passion of their social media campaigns, I have found it a useful tool to see one party’s true colours. Very often, in politics, the electorate is fed a very tightly controlled message of strict talking points. When candidates, supporters, and leaders go off the rails we get to see the true measure of the Wizard pulling the strings in Oz.



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  1. Doug
    March 27, 2012

    If some idiot with a lawn sign makes a few ridiculous statements, I would never put that to a party in general.
    If a candidate does, that is a little more worse and then if it’s an MLA, I would be really disappointed.
    Overall, though we should look at 1) Results: what have done/not done? 2) Platform.
    Every party can (does) have fools, but the platform is ultimately what determines my vote.

  2. March 27, 2012

    Agreed one cannot hold the fans to represent the team, but at the same time if those carrying the banner are doing so in a boisterous, aggressive, demeaning manner and they are carrying the colours of the party – the party gets associated with that branding.

    In my case, the instances were months and weeks apart, not related, and each time I was met with the same style and tactic in the face of my questions. I would say that speaks to a party attitude as opposed to an outlier.

  3. Anne Thrax
    March 27, 2012

    Agreed on your points. Two comments. I once sent a note to Raj Sherman asking why the Liberal Critic for Technology did not have a twitter account and did not get a response 😉

    2nd I too have had a few “run ins” with a certain party both sitting MLA’S, Candidates and Communication/Campaign reps. The one thing I find is that when I boil it down, it comes down to maturity. I have actually had to stop and ask myself (especially the candidates) “do they not realize they are allowed to be assholes AFTER they get elected, not now”. I understand they are newer to the political game but the way they portray themselves on twitter is basically, screw the undecided’s this is a forum to rile up my base. They are not acting like politicians they are acting like grade 10 girls.

  4. Roger
    March 27, 2012

    Wait a sec. Your last comment suggests that you no longer root for the Canucks because rioters wore their jerseys.

    I really enjoy twitter, but I’d never pass judgment on a party based on a tweet. I need more than 140 characters at a time as a basis.

  5. March 27, 2012

    The engagements I had were not with “fans”. They were with a high ranking MLA and a former party president. I would say that would speak to the character of the people who would surround this leader.

    It’s like getting yelled at by the starting goalie and GM. I may like the coach, but that’s not enough.

  6. March 27, 2012

    While I am trying to base my argument without naming names. I will give this +1, Anne.

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