Trying to Influence without Disclosure? That’s Disingenuous, Cowardly Behaviour

By Jay Menard

Even though the official campaign doesn’t start until May 1st, it’s painfully obvious that election — and anti-election — season is in high gear. So do you have your secret message decoder ring on? Because it looks like, once again, we’re going to be faced with people who don’t believe that transparency includes expressing biases or conflicts.

Earlier this week, there was a comment in a Facebook chat, likely noticed by few, but it was so important and indicative of the need we should have for transparency. And it reminded me of an outstanding request, which I’ll talk about shortly.

London councillor Phil Squire called out a commenter during a discussion on the validity of a poll — basically stating that the commenter should disclose that he is working on a campaign. The commenter did identify as supporting a candidate in the future later that day. As we head into both a municipal and provincial election, that type of disclosure is vital.

I’ve had this issue with Mayor Wanted and Rabid Transit (who replied to my DM request to find out who was behind the account with a statement that wholly avoided self-identification). At best, I’m not a fan of the (generally-unfunny) parody feeds that pop up in our London scene from time to time — especially when that “parody” crosses the line into deception. And it appears that behaviour shows no sign of diminishing as we approach both a municipal and provincial election.

Anonymity has its place, but when someone is trying to influence the minds and beliefs of voters, there is no room for ambiguity. There are few absolute truths in life, so it’s vital to understand the context around which the information provided should be framed.

Social media makes it easy to make statements that get shared well beyond the writer’s initial reach. And, with that, comes the responsibility to use that power accordingly. It’s important that the audience that these ventures are targetting understand who is behind them.

Recently, we saw a site mirroring declared mayoral candidate Paul Paolatto’s site, which was clearly designed to confuse people into believing it was the candidate’s actual site, published. Paolatto’s real site is here; the fake site is here.

So I reached out to this person (or people) who were publishing the fake site on Dec. 10th with the following:

“As you seem to be interested in ensuring that Paolatto’s campaign is run transparently and are interested in exposing inappropriate campaigning, I assume you’ll be willing to identify yourself as the author.

I appreciate your desire to have the campaign run cleanly, however I’m not sure conscripting identity — especially in a political environment where the majority of voters do not take the time to be informed — is in alignment with that desire. From Mayor Wanted to Rabid Transit, I feel there’s a burden of responsibility on the people behind these sites and movements to identify themselves. I would hope you have the courage of your convictions to do the same, so that users can contextualize the information.

Thank you,

Jay”

I followed up four days later.

Crickets.

First thing Monday morning, (Jan. 22nd), I sent a follow up.

“I understand that the holidays can be a busy time for us all, so I hope you’ve had adequate time to prepare a response to this request. I would hope you believe in honest [sic] and transparency — in an election as important as this, it’s important not just to have information, but to have the context around which this information should be framed — a large part of this is authorship.

Kindly reply with who is authoring this site as soon as possible.

Thank you,

Jay”

Still nothing.

To me, that’s the definition of cowardice and dirty politics. If you have the courage of conviction to create a site like this, then you should definitely be willing to stand up for your convictions. And if you’re going to demand accountability and context from your candidates, we should expect the same from the critics.

Not everyone knows the players — and most people aren’t even aware of the game. Every election cycle, we see people sharing selected information, criticising candidates or their platforms, all from a supposed pulpit of independent thought. But many of these people are either registered with a political party or working with a candidate behind the scenes.

Those are not bad things in and of themselves. But to share information without sharing the context upon which you’re presenting that is inappropriate at best, intentionally deceitful at worst. It’s not enough to think, “Oh, everyone knows…” because maybe within your respective echo chambers, they do, but in an election cycle those messages extend beyond your circles and can have a greater impact.

If we’ve learned anything from our “fake news” experience over the past few years is that a message’s provenance means little to far too many people. And if we know that people aren’t going to question content, then it comes down to our own character as to how we choose to use that knowledge.

If you have the strength of conviction in your candidate and your cause, it should be a no-brainer to declare. If you’re not willing to do that and you want to play dirty politics, then that’s going to impact the way I think about your message — and your candidate.

So how do you disclose? Twitter bios work? If in a longer-form (Facebook post or blog), then including a boilerplate statement disclosing your affiliation is easy. After all, if you’re committed to your candidate and believe in him or her, then that shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re not willing to make that commitment public, then what does that say about you, the validity of your cause, or the viability of your affiliated candidate or party? I know what it says to me.

My declaration:

 

  • non-affiliated with any party, never have, never will.;
  • I have been asked to help/participate in campaigns, but have refused;
  • I have met with candidates over the last few cycles to share my thoughts and experiences and will do so for any candidate;
  • I have voted Liberal, NDP, and Green over my time (never Conservative or any of its permutations), but I do not align with any party;
  • I vote for the person who I believe will be the best candidate for my riding;
  • I believe in waiting until the end of a campaign to make my decision, which is why I don’t believe in advanced voting except in instances where one cannot vote on election day. I want to hear the whole story; and
  • If it matters to you, I’ve voted for more women than men over the years — but I have exclusively based all my vote for what’s between one’s ears, rather than what’s between one’s legs, so this is motivated only by a desire for quality representation.

 

The official campaign start is still months away, but the bad behaviour is already starting to rear its head. I know it’s too much to ask that those with vested interests divest themselves of anonymity and stand behind their statements — but a guy can dream of a better political climate, can’t he?

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