#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

Canadian political parties have indicated that they intend to use new digital methods to reach potential voters in the upcoming election, including the use of text messaging campaigns.

“Jungle Cupcakes” by DixieBelleCupcakeCafe is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Great idea, I mean what could go wrong? New. Innovative Digital Campaigning – woo!

Other groups, such as Ontario Proud, have already used this tactic during provincial elections. Groups can use purchased, random, or given phone numbers to contact potential voters with messages, which is more likely to reach potential voters than the notorious “robocall” method, and in this day of information overload, potentially more likely to attract attention than purchasing ads on social media. And who wouldn’t want to receive a text message from the Prime Minister’s office, right?

The writ hasn’t even been dropped yet, and frankly, it seems as though parties are already campaigning online. In the news this week, the Conservative government was reported to own the domain name JustinTrudeau.ca – a site which redirects to conservative messaging and calls for donations. And reportedly an anonymous Liberal Government supporter bought Scheer2019.ca and is now attempting to sell it.

We don’t have the right laws related to election campaigning (even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal) to prevent misuse of these and similar technologies. Election laws were updated this year to reflect the purchase of online advertising, but most of our regulations around election messaging are tied to paid advertising. This is why robocalls, robo-texts, and domain name redirection fall in a grey area, not to mention messages shared on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Most of government comms, even when social media is used, tends to follow a broadcast model, so it’s no surprise there is still some catching up to do.

In this sense, online political campaigning is still a jungle. And while the government is most concerned about fake news, I don’t think that’s the biggest threat to this particular election. Misinformation is a major issue, to be sure, but sowing confusion, distrust, and a cynicism for all information sources, like by sending spam text messages, or domain name squatting, is likely a more effective tactic. These are the issues we really need to think through, and these issues are much harder to regulate.

#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

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