“The new public square is online, that’s where people engage and connect and communicate,” said Justin Trudeau after winning leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party on April 14.
With over 500 million registered Twitter accounts and over a billion people on Facebook, social media has proven to be one of the most effective means of communication in today’s digital age. The majority of young Canadians are using social media regularly and it is seen as an essential tool in the world of politics and a possible solution to the disengagement of youth in politics.
According to the Parliament of Canada website, there has been a marked decline in voter turnout among young Canadians within the last 20 years. Less than 40% of voters in the age group of 18-24 year olds voted in the last Federal elections in 2011, according to the iPolitics website.
Social media has proven effective in many successful politicians’ campaigns. Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign used social media platforms to engage and mobilize voters. The Outbound Director of Obama’s campaign, Laura Olin, said to NMR, “Social media had a huge influence in helping us get out the vote, raise money and persuade people to support the president.”
The newly elected leader of the Liberals, Justin Trudeau, has a social media campaign mimicking that of Barack Obama’s, CBC reports. A message by Justin Trudeau on his Liberal leadership campaign website is directed towards young Canadians, according to CTV news. It says, “There are a lot of people who think that students don’t care about the world beyond their textbooks. And I know that’s not true. I know it because I’ve met you, I’ve talked with you, we’ve tweeted back and forth and, most importantly, I’ve listened to what you have to say.”
However, despite proving effective in various campaigns, social media brings with its own set of problems for politicians and disinterested youth. Trudeau, who regularly updates his Twitter and Facebook, criticized Obama for not maintaining his social media presence after he won his presidential campaign.
Steven Goetz is the social media and communications manager of Student Vote, an organization that provides mock elections to students close to voting age across Canada to engage their interest in politics and increase voter turnout. He said that while no organization that wants to reach people would ignore social media, there is no direct correlation between trying to reach young people on social media and actually increasing numbers of turnout.
“It’s not clear how effective social media is at mobilizing people and getting them to go out and act on something,” Goetz said.
He also said people end up gathering with like-minded people online which doesn’t lead to any sort of debate and alter people’s perspective or open their minds to new actions. “So you can get hundreds of likes on a picture on Facebook but they are most likely people who already agree with you not people you have converted or gathered towards your cause,” said Goetz.
As a young student studying politics, Umair Ahmed, 19, says that a problem he faces with social media is the spreading of inaccurate information online.
“The onus is on the reader to make an informed decision,” he said, “anyone has the ability to put information online since the internet started to rise.”