BRITISH COLUMBIA

BC Election 2013: Social Media A 'Bane' For Politicians, Academic Says (VIDEO)

04/16/2013 08:25 EDT | Updated 06/16/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - Social-networking sites are already living up to their reputation of being a "bane" for politicians on the first day of British Columbia's 28-day election campaign, says a marketing professor from Simon Fraser University.

Dayleen Van Ryswyk, a New Democrat candidate for Kelowna-Mission, was forced to resign early Tuesday over controversial comments she made in Internet postings involving the compensation for First Nations.

In the postings, Van Ryswyk wrote, "we have been paying out of the nose for generations for something that isn’t our doing," and "If their ancestors sold out too cheaply, it’s not my fault..."

Van Ryswyk delivered her resignation to NDP Leader Adrian Dix shortly after Premier Christy Clark asked the lieutenant governor in Victoria to dissolve the legislature.

Lindsay Meredith, professor of marketing at SFU's Beedie School of Business, said the incident proves political parties are finding it hard to vet their candidates.

"The problem is we're dealing with the classic horse-out-of-the-barn scenario, right," he said.

"You're slamming the door after the beast is gone. It stops the other horses. It's a good lesson to the donkeys, too, but the bottom line is that one horse is out and causing trouble, right, and that's a problem."

Meredith said social-networking sites have thrown what he calls the "town-hall agenda," or the ability to comment openly, into the public's lap, and people are taking advantage of the opportunity.

But there's a downside, he added, because comments, like those of Van Ryswyk, can go worldwide in a flash, and then "all hell breaks loose."

Regardless of Van Ryswyk's resignation, the issue is not unique to the NDP or even B.C.

During last year's provincial election in Alberta, the Wildrose Alliance Party found itself under fire after a candidate in Edmonton, Allan Hunsperger, posted a blog that said gays need to renounce their sexual orientation or face an afterlife burning in hell's "lake of fire."

Federally, online videos and comments scuttled the political careers of several candidates in 2008.

Dana Larsen, an NDP candidate in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, was forced to quit because of online videos that appeared to show him using LSD and smoking marijuana.

In Ontario, Andrew McKeever dropped out of the race due to obscenities he used online while referring to women, as well as a threat to beat up a critic.

And Chris Reid, a Conservative candidate in Toronto, quit after online comments about gays, women, guns and the beheading of a Greyhound passenger came to light.

Even Nicholas Simons, a candidate for the B.C. NDP leadership in 2011, was criticized when he refused to hand over his social media passwords as part of the party's vetting process.

The only candidate to refuse, Simon argued that handing over his passwords would violate his privacy and the privacy of everyone in his Facebook network.

Despite the growing list of casualties, the problem will only get bigger, said Meredith.

"This is a case where technology has just taken the proverbial apple cart and just thrown it for a loop," he said. "It really is making a massive change."

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