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Social media gives a limited picture of political candidates

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Is it past time for a statute of limitations on social media stupidity? Or at least for a more nuanced understanding that what may have been expressed in the heat of a long-gone 140-character moment, or caught on a hidden camera investigation of… appliance repairmen(!) does not necessarily constitute a complete encyclopedia of any candidate's attitude or world view?

So far in this elongated election season, the Canadian Press has counted 21 "gaffes" involving nine Conservatives, six Liberals, four New Democrats and two Bloc candidates. Thirteen have resigned, or been fired by their skittish political masters.

Their "crimes"?

  • There was, of course, the infamous peeing Tory repairman.
  • And the Liberal candidate who crudely suggested a critic's mother should have aborted her with a coat hangar… in a Tweet war from when she was 17.
  • And the BQ hopeful who once cheekily responded to a survey that, in the event of a nuclear attack, she wanted her "cellphone, a penis and chips."
  • And the crank-calling YouTube Tory who posted a video of himself faking an orgasm…

Although none of these offences constitute high crimes or treason -- or even matters of public policy -- all resigned or were fired.

King's-Hants NDP candidate Morgan Wheeldon's August gaffe seemed more substantive. Conservative operatives circulated a screen grab of a 2014 Facebook post in which he allegedly accused Israel of planning to "ethnically cleanse" the region. Wheeldon insists his original comment was prefaced with "one could argue," and says he believes in the NDP's two-state policy. No matter. Wheeldon "resigned."

Tom Mulcair's communications director, Shawn Dearn, didn't get fired, but was forced to make mea maxima culpa after old tweets surfaced in which he'd argued the "misogynist, homophobic, child-molesting Catholic church" should not be considered a moral authority, and called Pope Benedict -- gasp, golly -- an "offensive expletive." That Dearn is gay might lend him "moral authority" to comment on the scandal-plagued Catholic church seemed lost on the electoral thought police.

We live in a social media world. Stale tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram what-I-had-for-breakfast photos will inevitably be part of the broader electoral picture. But they are not the only -- or best -- lens through which to view candidates. Before the next campaign, we -- and political parties -- need to grow up.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Image: Rosaura Ochoa/flickr

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