Adventures in Local Politics (via Social Networking)
Like many great adventures, this is an adventure that started innocently enough. Also it isn’t really that great, but it’s fun to write about, and it speaks volumes about the role of social media in modern politics. Everything started with the small concrete structure placed at the end of my driveway, known to most as a letterbox. There’s nothing remarkable about my letterbox. It’s beige in color. The only manner in which it has been decorated is the small plaque under the mail slot which reads ‘No Junk Mail’. No doubt you’ve seen one before, but just in case you haven’t:
Most people respect this request and don’t swamp our household with flyers for mobile dog washing businesses. There are, of course, many annoying individuals who feel that their home-grown mobile phone repair business is somehow special and exempt from this social protocol. Most often it’s a realtor who is under the impression that a gaudy looking pamphlet will somehow compel me to impulsively sell my house (although their attitude may change if they see what I’ve done to the space behind the dishwasher…yikes).
The reason I put that sign there is because I don’t look at junk mail. I don’t care for advertising or propaganda printed on glossy paper and wedged into the letterbox so I bin it immediately, or recycle it if it isn’t on glossy landfill. The ‘No Junk Mail’ sign is to prevent companies wasting their time and resources, and do a wee bit to protect the environment, by walking on by. So when I do get junk I get a tad narked off. In order to relieve the frustration I remember (unlike the people using the old fashioned mail-drop) that we live in an age of social media and leave them a reminder on their Facebook pages about what the sign means.
So what does this have to do with local politics? Well, we have an election in the near future and as you can imagine there are plenty of keen campaigners who believe that their cause greatly outweighs social niceties. There are two key figures in the up-coming election – Dr. Mike Nahan and Hannah Beazley.
Now as a disclaimer, this is the House of Geekery and not the House of One-Sided-Politics. We don’t endorse one of these candidates over the other, we’re here to relate a personal story that happened to me. To that extent we’re not going to discuss any of their policies or even what party they belong to. Look it up if you’re interested.
As you’d expect we got flyers from both of these candidates and true to my routine I hit up their respective Facebook pages with my usual complaint about getting advertising materials against my wishes. Dr. Mike Nahan was the to first drop a flyer so I went to his page first. The next morning I went to check for a response and to my surprise I found…nothing.
I was actually taken back by this. Most businesses ignore my complaint but this is a local politician during an election period so I was surprised he didn’t jump at the chance to make good with a voter. I went to comment on this but to my shock I found that I’d been blocked!
The audacity! This guy sends me a flyer that begins with claims that he’s my representative in the political arena and he not only ignores a straight forward question, but outright prevents me from following it up! Talk about rude! I took a look at the flyer that had started all this and noticed that this ‘representative’ seemed to like taking photo opportunities around my daily life. There he was, smiling alongside the kids at the very day care centre that Funk Jr attends, and even shaking hands with people at the place I work. And yet he, or someone representing him, had no qualms about giving me the flick because I’d asked an inconvenient question. Well that just rustles my jimmies.
I next took to email and voiced my complaint directly. In the email I wrote about my surprise at this response and the fact that I, a voter in his district, was treated so shabbily. I reread the email to ensure that it couldn’t been taken as anything other than enquiring. The response to the email?
The next day I got another flyer, this one from Nahan’s rival in the coming election Hannah Beazley. Again I logged in to Facebook and voiced my usual complaint on the Facebook page. A few hours later she replied:
Well…how about that! Not only a public apology, but quite a nice one! I respect that, although she points out that what was delivered isn’t deemed ‘junk mail’, she apologised anyway and assured me that it wouldn’t happen again. I was well chuffed with this response and made a point of showing it to my friends and colleagues, especially those in the district. It’s not only a simple response that puts a voter in a good mood but one that gives them something nice to say about you.
It was at this point that it occurred to me that this says much about the role of social media in politics, especially local politics. I live and work in this area, my children attend the day cares and we use all the public facilities. Yet I’ve never met a single one of the candidates in person. There have been opportunities to attend public events, and on one occasion I saw Nahan in the lobby of said child care centre where his aide stood in the way of the door while I was trying to collect Funk Jr, but I’m a full time working parent. I’m not going to be swayed by flyers or posters on bus stops. What I do have is Facebook and Twitter, two websites that allow me to interact with the candidates on a personal level. There is literally no better way to get to know the candidates in an election and have the chance to ask them questions. When Dr. Mike Nahan dismisses a question so quickly it not only annoys the one person who asked, but demonstrates a lack of awareness about the people he represents and how their world communicates.
Around this time I’d decided to write an article about this small adventure. Given that Dr. Mike Nahan’s Facebook has 400 followers and this website has over 3000, I thought it would be fair to give him the right of reply. I phoned his office and, it being late in the day, got a secretary. I let her know that I write for a website, relayed the story and made a request to ask why I’d been ignored, along with the fact that Beazley had responded with an apology. The secretary seemed surprised that I’d been ignored as such, and considering Nahan has been on the streets door knocking I could believe that this was all just a silly mistake. She took my details and contact number and said she’ll pass on the message to Dr. Mike Nahan personally. I thanked her and waited for the return call.
So where does that leave me? I know little about the two candidates I have to choose between, and I am obliged to vote. One of them had the savvy to engage with me, the public, on a social website and humbly apologise over a minor quibble. The other has ignored me outright. Maybe he’s got someone else handling his online persona and they’ve done a shoddy job, but given the role Facebook and similar sites have in modern world he certainly shouldn’t be leaving it to chance. The response from Beazley couldn’t have taken more than a minute or two, and for this one voter it has made all the difference in the world. In short, this has given me one reason to vote for one over the other, and one reason is enough.