Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Stay vigilant: #elxn42 is going to get ugly



In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 2, Prime Minister Steven Harper visited Canada's Governor General to request that parliament be dissolved.

So began the longest federal election in modern Canadian history.

As I write this, we are in day two of an 11-week campaign.

And already I feel sick to my stomach.

Not because of the potential results of perhaps the most important election this country has ever seen, but for the sheer toxicity of what is sure to be a nasty campaign.

We've got 11 weeks of partisan rhetoric, attack ads, half-truths and outright lies to look forward to.

You can practically hear the fingers of a thousand online trolls cracking in anticipation.

Like none before it, this election will be won and lost in the trenches of social media — and the battle-ready rhetoric is heating up on all sides.

Don't get me wrong: I love the democratization that comes with the Internet. Everyone has a voice — and that's ultimately a good thing — but the medium in which our messages are now delivered leaves something to be desired.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can give people the impression they're informed when in reality they're anything but.

For example, I'd be surprised if any long, incisive, well-delivered Facebook argument is going to change any minds — anyone willing to read it is likely already a decided voter.

The average, uninformed non-voter wants splashy, cutting headlines. They want outrageous click bait stories they can share with their friends for a quick like or comment.

They want to be informed but they don't want to work at it, dammit.

One gets the feeling that this election will be won by whoever can wrangle the attention of that uninformed, uncaring swing voter long enough to get them to the ballot booth — if that's even possible at all.

Take a look at the Conservatives' recent spending spree — over $4 billion handed out to communities in one week. Conveniently timed, taxpayer-funded press conferences just days before an election call.

It's shameless vote buying, but it works. That's why so many governments do it.

One big problem with politics — and perhaps the biggest strength of propaganda — is that the uninformed are easily ill informed.

One bad soundbite on the campaign trail could be enough to sour a candidate in the minds of undecided voters — a tactic the conservatives have been using to great effect for years.

Suddenly, those annoying, sometimes-anonymous Twitter trolls who do nothing but snidely bash the other side are starting to look like subversive Kingmakers — the new journalistic elite who have the power to sway the future of a country.

Scary, right?

I may be overstating their influence a tad, but it's interesting to think about. I follow a number of these accounts on Twitter from all corners of the political spectrum, and even I — a supposedly educated, spin-savvy journalist — can feel the effect some of their vitriol has on me.

Sometimes I find myself second-guessing my own opinions or beliefs — sometimes subconsciously.

For me, it's a reminder of the importance of independent thought, especially in the lead up to an election.

The propaganda machines are about to kick it into overdrive. The messages are being prepared, and they're about to be aggressively shoved down your throat at every online turn.

I have my own thoughts and preferences about the election, and who is best to lead this country, but you won't see that reflected in my reporting (and if you do, please let me know so I can try to fix it).

I'm not personally interested in who you vote for.

All I ask is that you take the time to approach this election with a clear mind — block out the propaganda, the vitriol, the online trolls — and inform yourself.

Leave your biases on the doorstep, do your civic duty and research our country's political parties. Understand the issues and how they relate to you, and make up your mind for yourself.

Just because our politicians and their partisan lapdogs often display the maturity of a soiled-pants toddler doesn't mean our political discourse has to follow suit.

This country is better than that.