Experts say social media could play large role in B.C. election outcome

WATCH: B.C. political parties are now posting separate election ads online, where there are different rules, and the tone can get even nastier. April Lawrence reports.
Attack ads are nothing new to B.C. politics, but increasingly more of those ads are being put out only online.

Including the latest from the BC NDP, which features Linda Kayfish, the sister of fired health researcher Roderick MacIsaac who committed suicide.

The only mention of the NDP comes at the end of the two minute, 40 second video, and is a barely visible authorization line — something Elections BC doesn’t even require for online ads, which are uploaded for free.

“The more you can diminish or make less prominent your party logo or ID the more the ad seems to emerge from public outrage,” said David Black, a communications professor at Royal Roads University.

While the use of social media in election campaigns isn’t new, Black says its influence is growing.

“It’s de-centered or taken away some of the power of parties to control their own narrative,” he said.

The biggest example of that in this election he says is what’s now known as the #IAmLinda moment — an unscripted interaction between Christy Clark and a voter in a grocery store, which then grew into a Twitter campaign against Clark and the BC Liberals.

“Any candidate is only one unscripted moment, or one gaffe away from a hashtag campaign,” said Black.

For those who direct campaigns, social media can be useful, especially for parties and candidates with small budgets.

“So now any person can basically selfie video for 60 seconds and if they say something really compelling it can go gangbusters for them,” said campaign strategist Sonia Theroux.

But Theroux says all of the parties could be doing a better job of taking advantage of it.

“In this provincial election [I] have been seeing more of what I would call traditional, unimaginative use of social media,” she said.

Something parties will no doubt have to put more resources into as social takes on an even larger role in the years ahead.