Facebook is mightier than the Gauntlet, at least according the results of the recent Students’ Union general election.
Each year a panel of Gauntlet editors play a part in influencing the outcome of the SU election by conducting a controversial review of the hopefuls. After two solid days of candidate interviews, the Gauntlet publishes a written review of each candidate, as well as endorsements outlining who we’re voting for and why. Despite our written insistence that the Gauntlet should not be the only piece of information students use to vote, many students are just too apathetic to heed the disclaimer. Admittedly, the Gauntlet review has played a large role in the outcome of past elections.
Usually this is the way things go, but not this year. This year there was a larger force at play–the online social utility known as Facebook. The website was virtually unknown during the last election, but in the course of a year “saw it on Facebook…” has come to punctuate snippets of conversation across campus daily.
This year the Gauntlet also struck out on almost all of its endorsements. Four out of six panel members endorsed Julie Labonte for president. Julie Bogle won. Five out of six panel members endorsed Teale Phelps Bondaroff for vice-president external. Mike Selnes won. We unanimously endorsed Kyle Olsen for VP operations and finance. Fraser Stuart eked him out by 16 votes.
While students may be too busy or just too apathetic to attend a forum, clicking a button to join the “Vote Julie for President” online group takes almost no effort at all. Besides, if all of your friends are doing it…
For Facebookers, the online battle for votes was just as fierce as the contest for the prime poster spot in the halls. Each candidate created a “Vote for me” group and everyone who had at least one “friend” in the SU was bombarded with requests to join the groups discussing how awesome particular candidates are.
Online campaigning is great if it raises interest in often-dull SU elections, which seems to be the case this year. Despite a nearly non-existent elections promotions committee and advertising that was nothing new, voter turnout in the election was at 17.7 per cent this year. This number is still low, but it’s up one per cent from last year. It’s also somewhat refreshing to see candidates the Gauntlet didn’t endorse getting into office. It means students are actually thinking for themselves.
But the unfortunate thing about campaigning on Facebook, or any other online social utility, is that the election disengages from a debate about platform points into a popularity contest based on who knows the most people. Facebook campaign support groups aren’t based on discussion of differing platform points, but on supporting your “friends” or the friends of your friends. This year’s Facebook campaign also easily put rez kids ahead since they automatically have the support of the undergraduate students living on campus. All in all, this leaves qualified candidates who may not have as many online “friends” out of luck.
Though next year’s SU will likely do an adequate job, students may have missed out on the most suitable candidate by voting for their Facebook friends rather than for who is most qualified to represent their interests.