By: Lindsey Scully
has been made of the great advantages that social media can bring to
political parties as they attempt to win over Canadians during
this drawn out election campaign.
People laud the 24 hour news cycle and
our ability to know what is happening almost instantly. But what of the
other, more troubling side of this day and age of short attention spans
and lightning speed media cycles?
the past 36 hours Canada, and the world’s, attention has been riveted
by the picture of a small boy, drowned as his parents attempted
to escape the violence that has overtaken Syria and other parts of the
Middle East. The picture, and the subsequent commentary, made the rounds
of traditional and social media and people took the time to express
grief, outrage and disagreement on what the right
policies were to address the refugee crisis.
overnight Wednesday, the conversation suddenly took a more personal
turn for our country as news emerged yesterday morning that Alan
Kurdi’s aunt had applied to sponsor his family here in Canada and her
application had been rejected. Very quickly news channels and social
media were alight with messages condemning the government and blaming
Chris Alexander and Stephen Harper for the death
of this young boy, his brother and their mother.
it turned out they were wrong. In a mid-day interview, the boy’s aunt,
Tima Kurdi confirmed that in fact, the application she had
made was for another member of her family. She did say she had sent a
letter via her local MP to Minister Alexander that included information
about Alan and his family in an attachment, but no formal application
had ever been submitted.
news outlets and social media throughout the course of the afternoon,
corrections began to be made, but confusion still abounded
with many people. A narrative had been written, and it is nearly
impossible to fully undo once it is let loose on the internet.
so we see the darker results of a media cycle that no longer has the
time for the measured fact-checking of the past. Political parties
and the media are working on Twitter time. This has created a race
mentality when it comes to the news. Increasingly we are seeing that
there is more concern about who broke the story first and the facts can
always be corrected later if they were wrong. The
fluidity of social media has put a lesser price tag on making sure that
the facts of a story are all in place before they are reported on.
particular trend doesn’t just apply to politics either. Last fall,
those of us in Ottawa had a front row seat to the troubling lack
of clarity that results from instant reporting. After the tragic
shooting of Corporal
Nathan Cirillo, people across the city were held
frozen as speculation ran rampant that there were multiple shooters
spread out across several locations. In the end, as well all know, it
turned out to be a lone gunman.
completely disparate cases, both of these situations exemplify the
challenges that the media
face in getting it right when they have almost no time available before
they are being demanded to provide answers to a ravenous public.
is easy to argue that while there may have been some mistaken facts
reported, this has opened the
door to a much-needed conversation around the crisis that is happening
in Syria and how other countries across the world should be responding. I
don’t think anyone could argue that this is a bad thing.
on the home-front however, it could also have a serious, and lasting
effect on what has already
been a close campaign. And while there are many people who do not
support the current government or its policies, it is troubling to think
that the turning point could be based on a fact that turned out not to
is still a lot of time left in this election campaign, and certainly
there may be other stories
that drive voters in one direction or the other. The question we are
left to ponder however is how to balance the public’s seemingly
insatiable need for instant gratification with the reality that we have
seen time and again that a deceptively simple tweet
can ruin a person, a company or a political career.
Lindsey Scully has been a Director at ENsight Canada since 2011. She spent nearly nine years prior
to that as a political staffer on Parliament Hill in the offices of MPs and ministers.