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2013 Predictions, or the Year of the Sneek

The 5th, or 6th year of doing a ‘Top Predictions’ blog for the upcoming year: inspired by the (ever expiring) Victoria BC Times Colonist journalist Jack Knox (@JackKnox), who annually regales us Islanders with his profoundly insightful prophecy. This year, a connection as the team at #YYJchat, of whom I am honoured to be a member, actually had our hero scribe as a guest – well done, we will never regain our reputations.

Looking over last year’s predictions jiggled the funny bone as a few made the zeitgeist – yep, Mayan Apocalypse certainly gained attention.

normal_happy_teaser_ad_copySo…. Here’s looking to 2013

1: Chinese year of the Snake: Snakes on a Plane….snakes in the grass…Washington State legalizes marijuana…B.C. in a big election…BC Marijuana Party wins! (stream of thought)

2: Social Media finally combines into an extremely useful, single platform called #PintYourFaceintoMyTube – marketers revel. Google adds a + version a month later.

3: Apple launches iPhone 6, 6.3, and a ‘mini-mini’ iPad (iPhone 4 revamped) all within 3 weeks, with midnight launches. Expectant buyer lineups combine and cause riots around the world.

4: US ‘fiscal cliff’ becomes a ‘cliff hanger’ lasting well into the the next Presidential election – which starts next week.

5: BC Ferries announces $50 million revamp of upper class lounges – though, these will be at terminals. Have a great meal, or 2 – even 3 – while you wait.

6: Lockheed introduces the F36, just to confuse Canadians.

7: Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece all apply to leave the EU and join the Canadian currency. Mark Carney has a giggle fit from London.

8: The Mayans were right, just a month off – it’s January 21st folks!

9: China notes buying and centralizing world iron/steel around Beijing is creating an earth magnetic wobble. Solution: buy these accredited sea sickness ginseng pills from our wonderful, safe and friendly factories.

10: In reference to #9, Harper notes Canadian potash exports help the global production of ginseng.

11: BC Premier Christie Clark goes for broke, and kisses a girl – though it turns out to be Katy Perry who crashed a fund raiser…even the NDP say ‘it could happen to anyone’. John Cummins …. ‘goddamn, why was I not invited?’ Jane Sterk kisses a sewage pipe, and that wins the election….

12: The Amazon cloud sever becomes sentient – John Grisham is forced into slavery to write novellas for Kindle.

13: 13th year of the new century: Blade Runner is looking like a soft landing!

and this is the year of the sneek: who gets your data?

Your comments, questions are welcome – have a great year.


Police Roadblock! Should you Post that on Social Media?

It is the  Christmas holiday season and the weekend where the first of the holiday parties start in business districts. Restaurants, hotels, bars love this time of year as so many harried workers and executives sign off from work for a night of eats, conversation and, well, drinks. Also the time when police ramp up their anti-drinking driving campaigns – yes, the road blocks are back. This is where social media, and frankly a conscience, matters both on behalf of the public enjoying a night out and the police who are there for public safety, and raising awareness.

However, a tweet from the Vancouver BC police department immediately raised my interest:

So, while Vancouver PD was asking people to send in photos and videos of the famous hockey riot, and then also asking the same audience to identify people from that material, they are now publishing a policy ‘don’t post’. This is the anti=thesis of social media, the ability for anyone at anytime to report on events happening in their lives. So, what if someone takes a photo and tweets – ‘Got stopped at X/Y cross road, passed the test – and kudos to Van PD on making our roads safe‘ vs ‘Hey folks – Roadblock at X/Y street, avoid the area‘? Either message increases awareness, and each is the same problem for the police department – identifying the location.

Fact is we are all journalists. That should not be hampered by any official body, it is a fundamental aspect of contemporary life that people have the ability to post the immediacy of situations via Twitter, allpokies.co.nz, Facebook – through status updates, photos and videos – using smart phones and tablets. For the Vancouver police department to even question that raises a more profound thought – why are they even raising the issue? Do they want control over Social Media accounts so nobody can post about certain operations?

Policing is built on trust, and certainly in terms of drink driving, speeding, cyclist and pedestrian awareness, the active road blocks; and further community awareness with school programs, community groups et al help. To ask the public NOT TO POST, to be controlled, and trying to control the public about raising that issue – well, that is simply a communication, and engagement, failure.

Recognize, no matter how large and powerful your organization, the public are far larger – and if they get their game up over an issue, you are beaten.

If you want the conversation, then let’s do it


Victoria Police Take to Twitter for Canada Day

One of the most difficult jobs is changing the communication culture of an organization, especially a police department. There is a natural resistance not only over legal barriers, but the ‘vision’ of what policing and community engagement actually means.

Update: analytics have been crunched regarding the #VicPDHelps Twitter hashtag for Canada Day – 123 tweets generated 314,345 impressions, reaching an audience of 75,099 followers within the past 24 hours via @Org9. Total network reach, which includes secondary level ie: ‘friends of friends’ is an estimated reach of 105 000. Considering the population of Greater Victoria is around 376 000 (source CRD), this illustrates the potential of social media to engage the region.

CHEK News Video

This is #YYJChat In Real Life!

Victoria Police Constable Mike Russel with #YYJchat

It is so refreshing to witness the Victoria BC Police Department experiment with Twitter on Canada Day. Creating a Hashtag – #VicPDhelps – as a non-911 means for people to note problems or concerns while tens of thousands gathered in the downtown core to celebrate the national holiday.

Mike Russell, the Victoria Police officer behind the Twitter handle @VicPDCanada, along with the department’s communication team, has moved online engagement from a staid press release broadcast, to putting a personality into the ‘handle’, making real connections, and proving that taking the time for online conversations can have real benefits.

Mike has reached out to the community. He has presented at the largest conference in North America dedicated to social media, Social Media Camp, and did a full hour on #YYJchat taking questions from the Greater Victoria online ‘crowd’.

On Canada Day, with an expected record number of over 50 000 people flooding into the downtown Victoria and Inner Harbour area to watch concerts and the fireworks, police communication changes. Crowd sourcing issues, nipping problems in the bud before they get out of control seems elemental, but can only happen if the community trusts the people behind both the badge, and hashtag.

In this case, it seems to have worked. The night is not over, but up to midnight, it is quite obvious the local community was well aware of the Victoria Police Twitter initiative, trusted it, and was willing to offer leads and assistance.

The problem for Victoria Police now is the future. Once a hashtag permeates a community, it can take on a life of its own. Using #VicPDhelps simply for special events, during set hours, might not be possible. Integrating Twitter, and other social media platforms, directly into 911 call centres and non-emergency, but reactive, communications, will be a challenge.

The following is an edited Storify of Canada Day using posts from @VicPDCanada #VicPDHelps #YYJCanadaDay and #YYJ

Note: the hashtag #VicPDhelps monitoring time was 4pm July 1st to 2am July 2nd. The Storify has posts to midnight July 1st


Opinion Panel on SHAW TV

A question came up on Twitter today through Lisa Helps (@LisaHelps), a City of Victoria councillor, while attending a seminar at the Local Government Leadership Conference


From @LBMG_PR at #lgla Is social media the new press release? cc @lacouvee @matvic

with a response from Janis LaCouvee


@lisahelps @LBMG_PR @matvic IMO it’s reductive to say that social media is the new press release. It’s one part of communications.


@frank_leonard said tonight at #lgla since he’s been on Twitter he hasn’t written a press release, saves staff time cc @lacouvee @matvic

(Note: Frank Leonard is the Mayor of Saanich BC)

SHAW TV Opinion Panel

SHAW TV Opinion Panel

Janis is correct. Social Media is only one part of communications, be that advertising, politics, branding or ‘news’. However, it is true to say Social Media is the central hub of media aggregation. Outside of text, which is an important factor and not to be discounted, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Google Plus and even the somewhat re-vamped My Space, are not involved in production. Photographs, video, interviews, and articles are created outside the social media sphere, but in that space they gain an audience and interaction beyond the medium.

Community news especially suffers from a lack of broad based promotion. Despite provisions in Canada (and elsewhere) for community TV, the audiences tend to be small, while the production values often equal or beat commercial operations. Which is why the news that SHAW TV community programs, at least in the Victoria BC area, will soon have a Youtube channel, is welcome.

The weekly Opinion Panel on SHAW TV is a case in point. Host Alan Perry brings together opinion makers from around the region to discuss major issues. For February 10th, we discussed regional amalgamation, big box stores, a provincial judicial review and more…

with Nikki Ewanyshyn, John Treleaven, and host Alan Perry



Bill C-30 leads to #TellVicEverything: CFAX1070 Podcast

Continuing a regular spot on Victoria’s CFAX 1070AM, this week’s topics were the proposed Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (Bill C-30), and the potential of Social Media in the 2012 Presidential election.

In the House of Commons last week, Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews introduced sweeping legislation primarily providing law enforcement mandated access to basic account information from Internet Service Providers. The theme (as all crime bills especially seem to require themes and titles these days) was protecting children from online predators, but in fact is an over-arching policy which goes much further: requiring ISPs to install software to retrieve information account holder information, preserving data, and granting the Minister powers to appoint ‘inspectors’ for warrantless searches:

As noted by the CBC’s Terry Milewski:

The inspector, says the bill, may “examine any document, information or thing found in the place and open or cause to be opened any container or other thing.” He or she may also “use, or cause to be used, any computer system in the place to search and examine any information contained in or available to the system.”

You read that right. The inspector gets to see “any” information that’s in or “available to the system.” Yours, mine, and everyone else’s emails, phone calls, web surfing, shopping, you name it. But, if that sounds breath-taking enough, don’t quit now because the section is still not done.

The inspector — remember, this is anyone the minister chooses — is also empowered to copy anything that strikes his or her fancy. The inspector may “reproduce, or cause to be reproduced, any information in the form of a printout, or other intelligible output, and remove the printout, or other output, for examination or copying.”

Oh, and he can even use the ISP’s own computers and connections to copy it or to email it to himself. He can “use, or cause to be used, any copying equipment or means of telecommunication at the place.”

In short, there’s nothing the inspector cannot see or copy. “Any” information is up for grabs. And you thought the new airport body scanners were intrusive?

Finally, note that such all-encompassing searches require no warrant, and don’t even have to be in the context of a criminal investigation. Ostensibly, the purpose is to ensure that the ISP is complying with the requirements of the act — but nothing in the section restricts the inspector to examining or seizing only information bearing upon that issue. It’s still “any” information whatsoever.

Ceiling Vic

Image: @RJMcClelland

The backlash was fast, and creative. An anonymous Twitter account, @Vikileaks30 began posting details of Minister Toew’s divorce, with the IP of the account traced to a House of Commons address by the Ottawa Citizen. That lead to a call for the Speaker of the House to investigate, which as noted in the podcast, might be problematic: there are as few as four IP addresses serving thousands of MPs, staff and civil servants in multiple buildings on the Hill.

A more creative response was the Twitter hashtag #TellVicEverything which trended around Canada, even reaching the number 2 spot worldwide. Thousands of Canadians posted mundane, often hilarious, missives on what they were doing...you can view highlights here. We have yet to see if the cross party and public advocacy against Bill C-30 will lead to alterations, or even a re-think. Remember, in the US, the SOPA and PIPA bills were essentially dumped after a massive online reaction. More insight via Maclean’s, have a read of Andrew Coyne’s comment in The National Post.

The 2012 Presidential race is heating up, and while the Republicans are still fighting out who will win the nomination – the GOP race is THE BEST reality show on TV – the Democrats are busy building on the online success of 2008. Going beyond using social media primarily for fund raising, an experienced team is using Facebook as the platform to target voters. See the Guardian UK on the Chicago Democrat Headquarters and how Facebook was used to beat an incumbent mayor in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Podcast: On CFAX1070AM with host, Adam Stirling

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Did Social Media kill SOPA? Podcast

It was hard to ignore the debate over the controversial anti-piracy bills proposed in the United States – SOPA and PIPA – as a number of popular websites, namely Wikipedia, went dark in protest on Wednesday January 18th. Both the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act, were due to be voted on in the US House of Representatives (SOPA) and US Senate (PIPA), and specifically targeted foreign websites hosting US copyright material. An important issue for Canadians, which was the topic of the discussion with CFAX 1070 host Adam Stirling and myself on Friday 20th January.

Reddit PIPA BlackoutPiracy of copyright material is an issue, not one to ignore as it costs content producers: musicians, movie makers, photographers to name a few – billions of lost revenue each year. What is at issue is how any government can and should legislate against website owners (bloggers), internet service providers, file sharing services, and search engines no matter where they reside.

The key parts to each act specifically authorized US law enforcement to block non-US websites and online services if they were accused of hosting pirated material. Placing the onus onto bloggers, social media platforms and search engines to ‘police’ all their links, resulted in one of the largest online backlashes ever seen:

From O’Reilly Radar

Consider the following statistics:

162 million Wikipedia page views, with some 8 million visitors using an online form to look up the address of their Congressional representatives.
7 million signatures on Google’s petition.
200,000+ signatures on the Progressive Change Campaign Committee petition.
30,000+ Craigslist users called Congress through the PCCC’s website.
250,000+ people took action through the EFF’s resources.
2.4 million+ SOPA-related tweets were sent between 12 a.m. and 4 p.m. on January 18.
140,000 phone calls made through Tumblr’s platform.
Nearly 1,000 protesters outside New York’s U.S. Senators’ office in New York City.
The key metric to consider for impact of this action, however, was not measured in digital terms but by civic outcomes: 40 new opponents in Congress.

As we spoke on air, news was coming in that both bills have been postponed, but the debate will continue as the entertainment and content industry seeks more protection. One solution is simply market forces, as Michael Geist eloquently points out in his Huffington Post article.

Podcast: SOPA, PIPA

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Top Predictions for 2012 – Or the Year We Dicsover if the Mayans were Right

If the Mayans are correct, 2012 is the year we all go ‘POOF’ into a dark, infinite apocalypse. Some may say we are there at least figuratively already: a repeat of the 2007/2008 financial meltdown effectively turned the middle class into the (non) working poor; fallen dictators, those who survived, became the new middle class, and Liberals across Canada awoke May 3rd with barely enough elected members to make quorum in caucus.

2011 was a year of quakes, shakes, upheavals – highbrow and lowbrow news that zinged around the world as fast as people could press ‘re-tweet’. Luminaries were lost: Memories of Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel faded in the haze of despair with the news, just under the year end wire, that Katy Perry and Russell Brand are no longer Hollywood’s golden couple.

With the past 12 months seemingly rife with daily misadventures, what will 2012 bring?

1: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act): The US Congress really hates pirates. After a mass public movement kills any hope of passing legislation against domestic online piracy, lawmakers simply change the name of the Bill to ‘Somalia Offshore Piracy Action’. AK-47 toting ship thieves can now be legally hanged for copyright infringement.

2: Cats will again dominate video: Despite 35 hours of compelling, informative and culturally significant video uploaded to YouTube every minute, 8 of the top ten online videos of 2012 will be about cats. Snoring cats, felines chasing radio controlled cars operated by stoned teenagers, cats rescuing firefighters stuck in trees, cats smoking bongs and chasing teenagers with radio controlled cars, cats shitting in toilets and flushing…you get the point. The only two non-cat related top ten videos are of Katy Perry without her wedding ring, and twenty minutes of Rick Perry playing pocket pool behind his lectern during the final GOP Leadership debate. (He wins, the debate)

3: GST/HST a matter of dialect: After soundly denouncing the British Columbia Harmonized Sales Tax in a 2011 referendum, citizens believe a return to GST/PST is simply a matter of time. Not so – scrambling to re-instate the tax, new BC Finance Minister Dean Fortin realizes former premier, and anti-HST campaigner Bill Vander Zalm, was in essence, the solution. In the Dutch language, ‘G’s are pronounced as an ‘H’; by publishing all finance and tax policy in Dutch the two taxes will be linguistically combined!

4: City of Victoria: Long serving city councillor Pam Madoff announces in July she will resign to realize a life-long dream of becoming a heritage building. Facing huge infrastructure costs for a new recreation centre and fire hall, along with operational financial shortfalls, council declares a by-election and referendum for November. As a cost saving measure, Victoria voters are asked to approve a single, combined building – fire station, library, pool, nuclear power station and sewage treatment plant, or accept a 4000% property tax increase. Residents reject both and move en mass to Saanich, where Mayor Frank Leonard declares a state of emergency (on Twitter) and asks for immediate assistance from the UNHCR (also, via Twitter). When asked why he didn’t phone for assistance, the Saanich Mayor replied ‘are you kidding? Prime Minister’s office phone support is a 2 hour wait. On Twitter it’s immediate’

5: Personal Art: Hipsters declare QR code tattoos ‘so passé‘. The 2012 trend for skin ink are # tags – #Momma, #I’mWithStupid, and the ever popular #♥. Twitter wins the # trademark and immediately sues 15 million for copyright violation and lifetime royalties; admitting ‘this is really the only way we can make money‘.

6: EU: Realizing that centuries of diplomacy and two ruinous world wars failed to gain domination, Germany says “schraube dieser“, takes advantage of the financial crisis, and simply buys Europe. Nothing really changes except state dinners, where the menus are heavy on schnitzel and Riesling wine; and Paris is renamed Merkelville.

7: RIM: Canada nationalizes Research in Motion with Prime Minister Harper justifying the move as ‘the only way I can have private conversations with Peter Mackay when he is in a helicopter‘. Rioters worldwide rejoice.

8: BC Ferries: 30 major dock crashes, 2 sinkings and the Queen of Coquitlam arriving in Honolulu instead of Swartz Bay (to the delight of passengers) – new BC Ferry Chairman Gregor Robertson admits hiring Thai tuk-tuk drivers to replace experienced captains as a cost saving measure, saying ‘hey, if they can navigate Bangkok floods, surely Active Pass ain’t a problem. Enjoy our new yoghurt bar!‘. To increase revenue, passengers and vehicles are charged per kilo – reducing American tourism to Vancouver Island to zilch, not only for the weight factor, but US version Blackberry conversion App is faulty (Imperial gallons to fat ratio qualified in terms of US debt level and Canadian $, combined with GIS sends most travellers to Victoria. Virginia).

9: Social Media/News: Journalists worldwide collectively raise hands and surrender to citizen media, admitting ‘for each credible, authoritative and balanced report we generate there are 5 million anecdotal, biased blogs/videos/Facebook updates and Tweets: we can’t compete‘. Every major news organization simply becomes a Twitter timeline. (and is subsequently sued by Twitter for copyright infringement)

10: Fiction/Books: After lengthy meetings with her bank manager (the EU emergency bailout fund), author J.K. Rowling realizes she cannot justify buying Belgium without publishing another book. Taking a cue from Star Wars, she goes back in time and announces: ‘Harry Potter: The Magic Diaper Diaries‘ (4 part series). To appease anti-witch, religious zealots: in chapter two, Harry is simultaneously circumcised, baptised, entered into the order of Masons, and adopted by the Taliban. Chapter three, with Harry and Hermione, as toddlers playing ‘doctor’ to heal his abused ‘wand’, becomes the 2012 online meme. Pre-sales rocket, with 30 year olds lining up in front of theaters two years in advance of the movie release.

11: US Politics: Tea Party collectively surrender when Michele Bachmann is revealed to be both a male cross dresser, and gay. While they commiserate over coffee, Mitt Romney renounces Mormonism, joins the Rastifarians, and proposes the immediate legalization of marijuana, taxation of said product to solve the US debt crisis, and re-tasking of the Keystone pipeline to pump hash oil from British Columbia directly to Washington DC ‘where it is needed most‘. In a counter move, Obama joins the Mormons in order to ‘regain the center of US politics‘.

12: The Mayans are right…

Wishing all readers a Happy 2012!!



Social Media and Political Policy: Smart Meters the New HST

Might only be relevant to residents of British Columbia Canada, but a new initiative in this province to essentially ‘re-call’ the BC Hydro smart meters program is a prime example, yet again, of political policy communications gone terribly wrong. Going further, this is an on going case where an established government still cannot read the tea-leaves, or understand, the online outrage, which morphs into real action, over lack of public consideration in policy decisions.

In a previous post I mentioned the HST tax policy which was roundly defeated after a prolonged petition and referendum campaign. Fact is, many who still voted ‘NO’ to the policy did so understanding the benefits of the new tax system, but wished to send a message to policy makers, and communication managers, ‘it is time to include more public discussion’

Notably, in British Columbia the anti-HST movement was able to harness the power of thousands to force a referendum through a petition campaign. The government program to change provincial tax policy was soundly defeated, despite a well-funded counter multi-media campaign to bring voters onside. The lesson to be learned is contemporary policy initiatives require extensive community and stakeholder consultation, in fact acceptance, before implementation. The ability for protest and effective citizen opposition, largely initiated through social media, is too apparent to ignore.

Now, likely building on the anti-HST movement’s success, a new group is forming using the same online and direct organizational tools to force a change in policy around new smart meters.

CBC Vancouver: A group of B.C. residents is following the lead of the Fight HST campaign with an initiative campaign that might trigger a referendum on BC Hydro’s smart meters.

Saanich electrician Walter McGinnis, who speaks for the group Stop Smart Meters, says the public is demanding a say in the installation of the meters.

“This is just a desire to be included in the decision making processes of the province, otherwise known as democracy. People want to have chance to have a say in a democratic fashion,” said McGinnis.

The Stop Smart Meters campaign will gather names of volunteers before submitting an application to Elections BC to register an official initiative campaign, he said.

If approved, the group would seek to trigger a referendum on the meters by collecting signatures of registered voters on a provincewide petition, much like the campaign that eventually led to the end of the province’s HST.

The group is opposed to the meters for a wide range of reasons, including the possible health effects of the wireless technology, the cost of the program, and concerns about privacy and hacking of the systems.

The response from the government to the initial smart meter protest campaign is almost exactly the same wording as when the HST protest began – it’s a done deal, don’t bother protesting.

But both BC Hydro and the province’s energy minister have said it’s too late to stop the billion-dollar conversion of all the province’s 1.8 million hydro meters to the wireless meters. More than 100,000 smart meters have been installed so far. CBC

The point – as with the ongoing, and momentum building Occupy movement, disregarding public engagement in policy deliberations and implementation only drives protest. The open, loose, network of campaigners against smart meters are not identifying with quasi-science around emissions, they are against the implementation.

At least in British Columbia, we are witness to a host of movements reaching beyond established protest groups, essentially saying: politics as we know must change.


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E-Politics: Advocacy, Outrage in Political Communication

One of the problems of being directly involved as a communications director, or adviser, in political and issue campaigns is the ‘bubble’ effect. The singular purpose of creating a multi-media campaign focusing on electing a party or candidate(s), or advocating for policy changes around an issue, provides practical knowledge on engaging citizens, voters, stakeholders, politicians and media, but often leaves out the wider picture around how platforms, especially social media, are rapidly altering overall political communication.

Note: If you are in Victoria BC on Thursday, October 6th there will be a PoliTweetup at the University of Victoria, David Strong Building, Room C118 (see Map) from 4:30 to 6pm. Moderated by Janni Aragon (@JanniAragon), the panel features Emmett Macfarlane (@emmmacfarlane), Anna Drake (@annamdrake), Paul Holmes (@tpholmes) and myself (Mat Wright) (@MatVic) – this is open to students, faculty, and the public. Everyone interested in politics, communication and social media are welcome to attend, and you can follow #PoliTUp.

The topic for this #PoliTweetup is “Canadian State(s) of Mind: Local, Federal and Social Media” – a series of questions and points will be put to the panel for comment, followed by an open session with questions from the audience.

Imagining the media world before the internet might be difficult. After all, websites, email, online forums have been around for over twenty years and have played a major role in political communication. More interesting, and relevant, is the mental exercise – thinking back four to five years, before Facebook, Twitter and social media and noting how those mediums have, and continue, to radically change the relationship between government and citizens.

Political Engagement Graphic Courtesy YouthActionNetwork.org

Political Engagement Graphic Courtesy YouthActionNetwork.org

There is an unwritten, but widely accepted, mantra in Public Relations that in order to be taken seriously campaigns require an online presence. A technical officer – the person who designs and implements a campaign website – is one of the first to be considered in a campaign plan. Just about every candidate or issue campaign from local, to national to ultra-national has a website (along with government departments and political parties of course), and there is both anecdotal and data based research that those who do not, fail to gain any public traction. However, the questions now are: have we moved on from central information depositories (web pages) and broadcast tactics, to a more social, interactive paradigm? Has the social web changed how governments ‘float’ and implement policy? Do citizens have greater influence over elected officials through social media? Have governments and politicians realized the potential positives of social media, and even if they have, are they able to implement policy engagement programs both quickly and effectively?

I don’t think complete conclusions can be drawn for the above questions as the process is complex and unfolding. Social media platforms, while around for a few years, have only recently reached a point of critical mass and traction where, if not a majority, at least a very high percentage of the population are active users – in fact, totaling far more overall influence than any particular legacy media outlet.

Notably, in British Columbia the anti-HST movement was able to harness the power of thousands to force a referendum through a petition campaign. The government program to change provincial tax policy was soundly defeated, despite a well-funded counter multi-media campaign to bring voters onside. The lesson to be learned is contemporary policy initiatives require extensive community and stakeholder consultation, in fact acceptance, before implementation. The ability for protest and effective citizen opposition, largely initiated through social media, is too apparent to ignore.

Occupy Wall Street Movement

Occupy Wall Street Movement

The 2008 Obama campaign is often heralded as the moment ‘social’ entered the political lexicon, yet criticism abounds that once in office the promise of ‘the continual conversation’ has been sidelined. More recently in the United States, building on the aforementioned lack of recognition, the Tea Party has highlighted ideology (see PBS – ‘How the Tea Party Utilized Digital Media to Gain Power‘), while frustration over congressional deadlock has lead to an #Occupy movement. The past few days have seen hundreds of people camping out around New York’s Wall Street, thousands participating in marches; with a rapid spread to other cities, even countries (Canada has an embryonic movement – see the Twitter List ‘Canadian Cities Occupied)

Similar to the Arab Spring, the ability for disparate individuals to quickly form, propagate and extend movements and protests, or simply to highlight issues is one factor favouring the open potential of social media. As previously mentioned, the point where Facebook and Twitter users especially reach, and pass, a critical number, is when it is almost inevitable masses assemble – the power of numbers.

The most fundamental change in communications, politics, policy and engagement is recognizing a single factor: social media provides any individual the influence potential previously the realm of government leaders, established broadcasters and celebrities.

Consideration Points

Watching the communication evolution is fascinating. Are we simply tapping into personal and group memes, always prevalent but never fully voiced, or is this new potential to influence and connect essentially changing the nature of democracy, politics, policy and government?

Information Demand: Plenty of studies have illustrated the issues around information overload. We are continually bombarded on and offline with messages, advertising, emails, texts, status updates – all taking time to acknowledge, absorb, quantify and digest. There is a school of thought that a breaking point has been broached where many, even the most ‘info-savvy’ are tuning out, undoing the potential for political engagement. However, the storm that can, and often has, brewed when information is NOT provided, redacted or only available through Freedom of Information Requests shows demand. The movement towards Open Data, and the principles of Gov 2.0 are essential factors in the changing relationship between governments and citizens.

Voter Apathy: Despite more, and detailed, information on politicians, governments and candidates, the trend in democracies is lower active voter turnout. Yet, at the same time, there is notable public insistence for greater participation in policy formation in between election cycles. When governments simply broadcast, or only deeply converse with stakeholders during election campaigns, the potential to retain cooperation disappears, and increases dissent.

Transparency and Accountability: Connected to the Open Data/Open Information movement, the necessity for governments to be fully transparent and accountable is apparent. Tied into voter apathy is the notion that incumbents and challengers will say one thing, then continue with established practice. Holding ‘Truth to Power’ is an underlying theme behind the obvious frustrations in both engaged and non-engaged citizens.

Interesting link: Umair Haque on MetaMovements


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Social Media Takes on Vancouver Rioters

The post Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver will arguably go down in Canadian history as the most covered via social media. The tens of thousands of people in the downtown core, during the game and in the midst of the mayhem, covered the events with mobile devices – taking high resolution photos and video.

In the wake, numerous Facebook and Tumblr pages have been set up where users can post pictures with a goal of identifying perpetrators – including people tipping cars, setting storefronts on fire and attacking police. On Youtube, hundreds of videos have been uploaded – one of which has received over 100 000 views.


The wealth of information will be useful to the police, but it raises an interesting question. While publicly operated CCTV and private security cameras are less obvious, those who instigated the riots, started fires and attacked others, must have been aware of the hundreds of people filming in the immediate area. Yet the threat of exposure did not act as a deterrent.

The Riots – Twitter Stream