Photo by Kyle West

By: Ashlynn Labinaz

The results of the recent McMaster Students Union presidential election were released on Jan. 24, with Josh Marando becoming president-elect. Jeffrey Campana came second in the polls, with Madison Wesley and Justin Lee placing third and fourth respectively.

Given our current state of affairs, these results beg the question: did social media impact the outcome of the MSU election?

The simple answer? Yes. When investigating the social media accounts of the candidates, all four individuals created Facebook and Instagram campaign accounts, posting platform content to build a larger following and campaign support.

When comparing the Instagram accounts of all four candidates, the winning Marando had 618 followers, Campana had 512 followers and Lee had 15 followers. Wesley’s deactivated account could not be used in this comparison.

Overall, there appears to be a clear association between the candidates’ social media presence and their election success.

I believe this correlation is attributed to the candidates’ engagement with their followers on social media. Marando, for example, created a new Instagram account dedicated to running his campaign. He posted ten different times over the course of the election, highlighting different events he attended and campaign promises he intended to fulfill.

Conversely, some of Marando’s opponents did not rely as heavily on their social media presence, posting only a handful of times on Instagram.

The MSU Elections Department also acknowledged the importance and presence of social media in the presidential election. On the elections page, there were two appendices: one with candidacy rules and another six-page Appendix A, containing social media regulations that candidates were required to follow.

This appendix was tediously written and included an explanation of how to post on every major social media platform to ensure that no candidate had an unfair advantage.

Clearly, the MSU Elections Department understood the importance of regulating social media during elections in order to avoid potential problems related to digital campaigns.

One increasing problem on the world stage, for example, is the propagation of “fake news” — that is, disseminating information that is intentionally wrong with the goal of swaying thought and opinion. Clearly established social media regulations for candidates is therefore an important step towards addressing election misinformation.

Despite any potential negative consequences, social media platforms have important benefits during elections. Specifically, social media allows voters to make more informed decisions.

In a digital age where information can be retrieved in a matter of seconds, many have become apathetic towards researching electoral candidates. Social media then provides a fast and easy way for voters to learn about candidates’ platforms.

For example, Marando featured an Instagram post highlighting the key points of his campaign. This post took less than a minute to read and provided a basic understanding of his platform, allowing students to easily inform themselves.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bs0tWePBOU6/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

The easy access to this information also facilitates one’s ability to compare different candidates and their platforms.  

Social media in elections also provides a platform for direct dialogue between candidates and voters. Throughout each campaign, the MSU presidential candidates were posting, tweeting and sharing. Every social media platform allowed candidates to receive messages from the public, which ultimately encouraged political discourse.

Overall, I strongly believe that social media acts as a useful campaign tool in elections that future MSU presidential candidates should definitely take seriously.

Although some may argue that his popularity won him the election, I attribute Marando’s success to his effective social media strategies. By consistently posting succinct summaries of his campaign goals, Marando was able to spread his message to students in a simple and accessible manner.

In addition, with the increasingly influential nature of social media in elections, students should become more informed and equipped users of these platforms.

Marando used social media to his advantage to help him win a presidential election. Similarly, students should recognize social media’s extensive and far-reaching value as a necessary election tool in this new digital age.

 

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It took 22 hours for the Student Representative Assembly to elect this year’s MSU vice-presidents– a meeting that might not happen next year if some students have their way.

Though there is almost unanimous consensus that the VP electoral system is flawed, exactly how the system should be reformed is a divisive topic that led to the creation of a VP Electoral Reform Ad Hoc committee.

“The way VPs are elected at the moment needs to change,” said Ehima Osazuwa, MSU President. But whether that change should be determined by a small committee of student leaders or go directly to referendum will be decided by the ad hoc committee.

A surprise motion was brought forward by SRA Social Science Representative Eric Gillis at the General Assembly on March 23, 2015 to hold a referendum for students to decide whether or not they want to elect the Vice Presidents, or want the SRA to continue to elect them. Although this motion passed, there were not enough people for quorum to be reached, meaning the SRA has the discretion to vote on it.

26 days after General Assembly, and a day before the vote on whether or not to have a referendum was held, the Speaker of the SRA ruled this motion out of order in a last minute email sent to SRA members. A Facebook event aiming to engage students at this meeting hosted public outcry and claims of a deliberate attempt to prevent the vote from happening.

Instead, the SRA passed a motion to create an ad hoc VP reform committee which will recommend what the SRA will vote on in Fall 2015. “Talking to a lot of SRA members they were either not comfortable performing the vote or they did not want the vote to happen at all.” said Shaarujaa Nadarajah, SRA member and member of the committee. She explained that SRA members were uncomfortable with voting on a referendum without the nuances of how the referendum would be framed.

The official document states “the recommendations shall include a formal proposal for a referendum, with an official breakdown of ballot options.”

The first meeting will be on June 7 at 2 p.m. in the MSU Boardroom and anyone interested is welcome to attend, although the Speaker and Chair of the committee, Inna Berditchevskaia, asks interested students to arrive five minutes early.

Osazuwa describes the purpose of the committee to elaborate on what options a potential referendum should include. “[The purpose is] to give students choices, because the current motion put forward didn’t have any choices,” said Osazuwa.


"I joined [the committee] because I was frustrated throughout this entire movement that people were making these sweeping generalizations about what students wanted" - Connor McGee, MSU committee member


Although, Osazuwa admitted that whether or not this referendum will happen is still unclear.

“The job of the committee is to decide whether it should go to referendum or not,” said Osazuwa.

“If students want it to go to referendum then it should go to referendum.” When asked if he anticipates students will want a referendum, he said yes.

However, critics of the committee wonder whether it is representative of the student body or simply of the “MSU bubble”.

“The committee is open to every single person so anyone can come” said Osazuwa. He says it’s important to represent the 22,000+ members of McMaster.

Others question whether the students at GA and those involved in the public outcry were representative of the student body. “I joined [the committee] because I was frustrated throughout this entire movement that people were making these sweeping generalizations about what students wanted,” said Connor McGee, MSU member on the committee.

The committee was selected during exam time and the MSU members on the committee were all acclaimed. It has been brought up that maybe because it fell during the exam period, it was difficult for students to come out to SRA meetings.

“People could have made themselves available and been nominated beforehand or have their speech read,” said McGee.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the MSU bubble representing itself,” said McGee. He also says there might be a self-selection bias in who joins the committee. “In a lot of cases it makes sense that an SRA member, or former SRA member or someone like that, would have an interest and more thorough understanding of what the position entails.”

A separate criticism is that this committee is redundant with work that has been done before.

“The committee itself, I understand why it was struck, but honestly, the democratic reform committee has existed in 2012 and 2013 from my understanding and did similar research to this committee, so I don’t think it will come up with anything new” said Sara Jama, SRA member on the committee.

The committee and its research will certainly contribute to the discussion on electoral reform and how students perceive the MSU. “Beyond VPs this is also a great opportunity to talk to students about the MSU,” said McGee.

However, it remains to be seen whether this committee will serve to perpetuate the status quo or create meaningful change.

Given the divisive nature of the topic, it is also unclear whether it will be productive.

“If someone’s personal bias does start to get in the way, I think that would obviously jeopardize the findings and entire point and integrity of having this ad-hoc committee. So in that case, I think it’s safe to say some kind of action would be taken,” said McGee. “There’s no point in having a committee if you’re purposely going to skew the results.”

“I see it as a stalling mechanism, but hopefully good discussion will come out of the committee itself,” said Jama.

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