Stop Electing the Technology Challenged

File Photo / Brampton Focus

Update: This post was originally published on May 10, 2016. Councillor Gael Miles has since contacted us to discuss reclaiming here domain name which we are facilitating. 

The recent hullabaloo in Brampton about a deleted Twitter account is a prime example of why we should only elect people to public office that have a fluent understanding of technology. Math, Science, English, Geography and a long list of other skills should also be on the list but that’s for another day. Technology however is a special case because it enables powerful communication, decision making, cost savings, and economic growth … all things that our leaders should care about.

Understanding technology also means an understanding of Open Data, crowd sourcing, data security, privacy and a host of 21st century issues that affect our global competitiveness and quality of life. The average voter doesn’t have to grasp all of these ideas, but our politicians must!

Twitter is a deceptively easy to use tool that enables anyone to find out what is going on anywhere in the world about any issue in real-time. In Brampton, the number of adults that use Twitter on a daily basis likely numbers no more than two hundred. This small group of people are using Twitter as a tool to keep leaders accountable by interacting with other residents in a public forum. Yes, you can let the world know what you are having for breakfast, but you will quickly be ignored. As a voter, Twitter allows you to ask a candidate or politician anything you want in a public forum. It is quick, simple and direct.

Across Canada, there are many examples of politicians that are using Twitter for two-way communication that benefits their constituents. The Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi, the Mayor of Mississauga Bonnie Crombie and local City Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon engage regularly and are all popular with their constituents. Some of what they do include:

  • Gauge feedback on proposed laws and policies
  • Inform about service changes or disruptions
  • Communicate during disasters
  • Express thoughts on important issues
  • Respond to questions, feedback and criticism

The absolute worst way for a politician to use Twitter is to make an announcement and then go silent. This is chicken sh*t. Almost as useless is to only engage in a conversation when it suits them.

In Brampton, the recent Twitter debate swirled around Regional Councillor Gael Miles. The Councillor wanted an investigation to find out what happened to a shared Twitter account dedicated to communicating with residents of Ward 7 & 8. There is a lot to be critical of the Councillor here, including:

  • Twitter is best used as a one to one tool, not as a shared tool. There are a few stellar exceptions, including Peel Regional Police.
  • The City is already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on social media experts that should be coordinating among all staff and councillors. It is unclear what these recently hired social media experts are working on.
  • Councillor Miles has made 109 tweets using an account she designates for city business. This ranks her as a novice user. Perhaps the Councillor should focus on constituent engagement using her own Twitter account.
  • The Councillor links the website on her personal Twitter account profile. (An account which by the way has an image of city hall in the background and a profile description that starts with her elected title “Regional Councillor Gael Miles”). The Councillor neglected to renew this website domain name. As a result, just like the missing Twitter account, the Councillor no longer has access to the domain name she used for her election campaign. Brampton Focus has taken the liberty of registering the domain at our costs to ensure the councillor isn’t held hostage by an unscrupulous internet user should she want to reclaim it. We’ve also redirected the site to the Councillors’ information page on the City of Brampton website.

In fairness, it is quite common to forget to renew a domain name, especially if you are not relying on the name for hosting a website or an email account. However, you cannot at the same time be insinuating accusations about a missing Twitter account while neglecting more important issues facing the city.

How to Evaluate a Politician’s Technology Chops…

Get on Twitter and tweet your local politicians or candidates on an issue that you want to discuss. For local politicians, the issue could be as simple as getting a pot hole repaired. For nominees seeking their party’s nomination, ask them why they are running. For provincial and federal candidates, ask them for specifics in your neighbourhood about what’s being done to improve healthcare, education, the economy, infrastructure and the environment.

If the politician doesn’t respond or acknowledge your communication, then red flag them when it comes time to vote. There are exceptions to when it is not reasonable to expect a politician to respond. You might be asking a personal question, being rude or harassing, or the politician might be really popular and can’t get back to everyone. If we all engaged like this, imagine how better our politicians would listen to their constituents.