As Courtenay City Council candidate Mano Theos found out, social media can be a dangerous place for current and aspiring elected officials. And are anonymous commenters committing election tampering?
Social media have influenced British Columbia politics right down to the local government level, and not always in a good way.
Negative and mean-spirited attacks on elected officials, sometimes from anonymous sources using fake names, have caused candidates and elected officials to drop off the social media grid.
Courtenay City Council candidate Mano Theos feels he was attacked last week, on a Facebook group page called Comox Valley Politics, for posting comments that he says were meant as light-hearted and fun.
Others in the group felt Theos expressed “anger” and acted “immature” for a municipal councillor.
In response to a post by Diana Schroeder, Theos added this comment: “Sounds as though you need a really big hug from one of your Dogwood supporters.”
Schroeder: “My Dogwood supporters? Your assumptions often lead to false conclusions.”
Theos: “Smiling is good for the soul.”
Jamie McCue: “Not surprised your first response in this group is to be condescending to an engaged citizen. You think that sort of attitude will get you elected? You’re sorely wrong!”
And the conversation continued in this vein with 32 separate comments.
“I was trying to inject some light humor into the discussion,” Theos told Decafnation. “People take things way too seriously sometimes.”
The incident with Theos, who is seeking a sixth term on City Council, was minor compared to the bullying and threats directed at elected officials elsewhere in the province and on the Island.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, for example, announced in March that she was quitting Facebook, calling it a “toxic echo chamber.”
And she was recently quoted in the Victoria Times-Colonist saying the downsides of social media outweigh the upsides.
“The downsides are it’s really, I would say, a threat to democracy and the ability to have face-to-face conversations about important issues,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Theos agrees that face-to-face conversations are more productive.
“If anybody wants to talk to me, my number is in the phone book,” he said.
After his initial foray onto Facebook, Theos has decided “Social media is not something I want to be a part of.
“Trying to talk with people on Facebook, I don’t even know these people, and some of them are not even real. They’re fake names,” he said.
View Royal Mayor David Screech told the Times-Colonist that commenting about candidates through anonymous Facebook pages might constitute election tampering.
“It’s not acceptable under the election rules to deliver leaflets anonymously. I don’t see why it should be any different on social media,” he told the newspaper.
The practice of using fake Facebook accounts to comment on websites and other social media platforms has made it’s way to the Comox Valley.
A frequent poster on the Comox Valley Politics site is “Peter McGillicuddy,” which appears to be a fake name and fake Facebook profile for someone making anonymous comments.