The recent flap in the British Columbia New Democratic Party #bcndp #bcpoli regarding the requirement for leadership candidates to hand over passwords to their personal social media accounts, has broached a subject that must be explored. While it is a positive move that the Provincial Privacy Commissioner will look into the issue, the limitations of that office – in terms of online communication servers that exist outside of provincial, or Canadian control, raise further questions as to ‘who controls what’, and why should we care?
(Digression: as to the hash tags #bcpoli #bcndp – maybe all political parties, and ‘communication experts’ need to realize that social media is the current key to #SEO – don’t get that?, #google it, then have fun hiring overly expensive consultants.)
The main question is: Should a political party have as a fundamental policy for candidate endorsement – as MLA, MP, Leader – or staff, volunteer – a requirement to provide passwords/logins to social media accounts. The main concerns being Facebook and Twittter.
The answer should be, and is, an absolute NO. There is little difference between a business, an organization, or political party, within law in terms of transparency, in ‘hiring’ or ‘recruiting’ candidates. A company cannot require disclosure of personal social media passwords as a prerequisite to hiring, neither can any level of government. If that were the case, then where would it end? Email accounts, online banking login details, personal cell phone activation key…?
While social media platforms are relatively new, email has been around for two decades, and most users, companies and organizations, identify with the need to have a personal email account, and one, or more, for other uses. The same is true of Facebook, Twitter, 4 Square – separate the social media profiles to the need.
As a communications adviser, and having worked with organizations and political campaigns on candidate vetting, it would be utterly unreasonable to even ask for personal online account access. A vetting process does, and should, include what is publicly visible online, and that incorporates social media, but no one has a right to go beyond that, into settings, connections, and private messages. There are certainly cases where online content, and social media accounts have proved embarrassing – Ray Lam was forced out as an NDP candidate due to photos published in a Facebook photo album, but access to his Facebook account would not have prevented the ‘scandal’.
It is the BC NDP party that has made this an issue, and only to their detriment. Their ability to snatch defeat out of potential victory never ceases to amaze. Obviously the party communication gurus put little thought as to the nature of social media platforms into the decision, which illustrates how out of touch the leadership and party advisory boards are for the implications. Social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, are full of information that goes well beyond the personal account profile. Access provides friends and connections lists, personal messages, shared notes and photo albums and much more; breaching the privacy of not only the individual account holder, but everyone connected.
With a party leadership campaign underway, the single NDP candidate publicly refusing to hand over social media passwords, B.C. NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, is becoming a folk hero – and it raises the question on where the other candidates stand. How the party will deal with the fallout will only be proven with time, but there is already online backlash – a distillation of which is. ‘social media is vital to campaigns, yet you want me to connect to an candidate? Forget it: so also forget the Facebook shares, Twitter RTs, online comments and support’
As Adam Stirling commented in a CFAX Editorial:
The NDP says it’s doing this to prevent any potential embarrassment and damage to the party’s image.
What the party has not stopped to consider is the damage it has already done…
How many young, progressive, tech-savvy voters – who actually understand the significance of social media – have already been alienated from the party with this clearly misinformed policy?
Despite social media, email, and online video providing new mediums of engaging the public in politics, campaigns, policy and governance, it continues to be a struggle raising voter turnout during elections, or even getting a community group round table. Increasing the bar to political participation with obvious privacy violations will only make that task harder. The NDP used to be, and still can be, the party of enlightened progressive decision making, and can utilize online platforms especially as a means to re-engage a disaffected population. That cannot be accomplished with regressive policies that deter candidates, volunteers and fund raisers – time for a mea culpa.
As always, comments and feedback are welcome…