Friday, April 29, 2011
Canada's Facebook Election Changes the Face of the Nation
Yes, I've seen the latest polls and have jumped on the bandwagon. I'm putting aside the pessimist belief that the vagaries of the voting system would undo the sudden rise in support of the NPD.
There's something historic going on and it has more than just a shift in voting patterns. More importantly, this is the election that historians will point to as the election where social media, in particular Facebook, played a determining role in bringing about the electoral results.
In short, what has occurred is that the traditional media has lost its ability to control how elections will be played out. It no longer can decide on how the issues will be framed. Although it stills plays a role, the advent of social networking tempers what was a previously unchecked power to determine who will win elections.
In the case of this election, people entered into hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of political exchanges with their Facebook friends. Essentially, all of us who participated became media sources. As a result, traditional media was no longer privileged as an information source. On the contrary, it became more important to see how the issues were playing about on our News Feeds.
This is not to say that you wouldn't find links to articles stemming from the traditional media, but what is different is that when posted they were followed by comments that weighed the opinion and allowed for exchanges between the participants. This is a significant break from the one-to-many communication pattern that gives traditional media its power. Often, it is the comments that follow that are more informative than the original article.
As well, these millions of exchanges allowed Canadians to self organize in an unprecedented manner. At the beginning of the campaign, the Prime Minister framed the ballot question as a choice between a Harper majority or a reckless coalition. Canadians then took it upon themselves to talk it over and see what they could come up with.
Following the lead of Quebecers who have an uncanny ability to mobilize their vote in favor of the party that will go on to form a government, Canadians have responded to Mr. Harper's framing of the question and have decided that they would prefer to be governed by a coalition government and that this coalition should be led by the leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, and it shall be formed without the support of the Bloc Quebecois.
Talk about the wisdom of crowds.