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Br ett Bell

he likely expected the howls from the opposition parties in the House of Commons. He probably wasn’t expecting that the primary opposition to his parliamentary tactics would coalesce around an online social network that used to serve as a handy way for university students to keep up with their friends’ schedules. To express his displeasure in the Harper govern-

W

ment’s decision to prorogue, University of Calgary archaeology student Richard White formed the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament or CAPP, which it came to be known. Writing for the online community rabble.ca, White explained that the Facebook Group was designed with “the simple idea of getting Canadians to write to their Members of Parliament and asking them to return to the Hill on January 25th, the day the session was set to resume.” The group quickly became the central hub for

efforts to rally Canadians to pressure Members of Parliament from all parties, but specifically on the Conservative side, to return to work. Fuelled by the spoke-and-hub nature of the social network and given additional attention by the federal op- position parties, CAPP membership quickly group from the tens of thousands to over 100,000 in a matter of days.

The true utility of social media in politics is to provide people from all walks of life with the tools to engage on specific issues and to organize themselves in an organic fashion that traditional political parties cannot.

As of this writing, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has just over 225,000 members.

Just

to put that in perspective, the combined member- ship of the Facebook fan pages of all five main party leaders is just over 30,000. Almost as quickly

28 Politics | Canadian Edition

hen Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he would be prorogu- ing Parliament on December 30, 2009,

as the CAPP group grew in numbers, debate grew around what the group meant in terms of impact on public affairs and whether it signified a shift in the political landscape. It did not take long for the mainstream media

to weigh into the debate on social media, its role in politics and whether a Facebook group was a new grassroots movement or just another example of “slactivism”.

National daily The Toronto Star

heralded the formation of the CAPP group as an expression of “grassroots fury”, while radio host and National Post columnist John Moore noted that “few things say ‘I care’ with the empty ferocity of a Facebook page.” It would seem the average Canadian agrees with

Moore. In a recently released poll conducted in early February, Nanos Research asked Canadians what kind of influence political Facebook groups such as CAPP should have on government and politics in Canada. According to the poll,

when

asked to rate how much influence political Face- book groups should have on government, 46 per- cent of Canadians believed they should have little to no influence, while only 11 percent felt political Facebook groups should have an influence on gov- ernment decision. When asked their impressions of political groups on Facebook, three in ten Canadians had posi- tive or somewhat positive impressions of political groups making use of Facebook, while an equal amount of Canadians had negative or somewhat negative impressions. As pollster Nik Nanos told the Globe and Mail: “They see [Facebook groups] as an enabler of political discussion, and a kind of low-entry political transaction. We should delin- eate between Facebook as a mobilizing force in politics and Facebook as having political heft in the ballot box.” Unfortunately, much of the public debate on Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, online campaigning and its role in political campaigns misses the point. Critics of such online initiatives are quick to point out that the Put Betty White On SNL Facebook Group has over 425,000 members and there are over 300,000 fans of the Norwegian Olympic Curling Team’s Pants. But it is folly to merely use membership numbers as the primary yardstick to measure the efficacy of an online po- litical community. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69
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