“Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin’.”
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is live-blogging on his Facebook page this afternoon. Judging by the silence from mainstream media, most journalists are not impressed.
And who can blame them? Another baby-boomer politician on Facebook is not exactly a stop-the-presses story.
But if reporters looked beyond the obvious, they might just see an event that could very well signal a sharp change in how we conduct our politics and engage as citizens. For anyone paying attention to the growing chatter in the social media environment, Michael Ignatieff’s live Facebook conversation is happening at a tipping point.
Two recent events in particular signal a change in the prevailing domestic winds: the creation of an anti-prorogation Facebook page and the social-media response to the Haitian disaster.
Today, all but the most hardened sceptics or partisans are admitting that there might be something to the outpouring of online anger and frustration channelled by the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (now over 200,000 strong).
And look at how social media sites are being used to share information and engage Canadians in Haitian relief efforts. You’ll see a different, more synergistic expression of solidarity than at any other time in our history. While Facebook, MySpace and other social networking platforms were around at the time of Hurricane Katrina or the South East Asian tsunami, this time the response has a different feel. It is not only more pervasive and widespread, but more organic.
How can we explain this?
There are probably two key factors at play. We may have achieved a degree of critical mass in Canada with respect to social networking participation across demographics; and social media sites create both a platform for sharing information quickly within social networks and a place where subtle peer pressure is applied.
Today, Michael Ignatieff takes his first go at live blogging. In doing so he becomes the first federal party leader to use social media to engage directly and in real time with Canadians. More importantly, taking a page from president Obama’s playbook, he taps into a powerful tool for citizen engagement that until today, had been largely neglected in our country.
If the Liberal party extends aggressive online engagement to its spring policy conference, it could be riding a wave that changes the way the game is played; not only for the party, but for Canadian politics.