Editorial — Social media brings sea change in politics

Politics, and federal politics in particular, is a game played with no rules and no protection.

We’ve heard it many times, and seen it a few times during election campaigns. Social media has changed the way politics is done.

Last week’s “vikileaks,” a series of tweets about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ divorce, has focused attention on how easily information can be shared over the Internet. It also highlights the fact that politics, and federal politics in particular, is a game played with no rules and no protection. Players can be blindsided at any time and every hit counts. The only goal for most players is to completely destroy their opponents.

Toews became the target of an individual or group who created a Twitter account, and then proceeded to broadcast details of his divorce case, which occurred several years ago. It is likely that the tweets were done from a House of Commons computer, according to some preliminary investigations.

He was targeted because he defended a House of Commons bill dealing with online surveillance. The bill would allow police access to information such as an IP (Internet Protocol) address without a warrant. It would not give police access to web surfing information or e-mail without a warrant, but many individuals and groups feel that it opens the door too broadly.

Toews unwisely stated that those who opposed the bill were “with the child pornographers,” an unfortunate comparison. One can be concerned about privacy and also be horrified at child porn — at the same time.

So he was paid back, via social media.

In election campaigns, candidates have been forced to resign because of material they posted on the Internet, usually on Facebook or YouTube. This is becoming almost standard in any given election, and has led to most parties doing far more screening before even allowing a candidate to seek a nomination.

However, social media hasn’t been used a great deal in trying to change the course of debate on public issues. This incident has proven just how potent it can be.

But as with all media, it can be misused, and the suggestion that “vikileaks” may have originated with a political staffer from another party is troubling.

It all has served to remind the government that it needs to keep the public onside if it wishes to bring in  new ways of doing things.

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