Two weeks ago the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) bylection for Vice-President (VP) Internal turned ugly… again. SSMU elections have been a source of controversy for years with the most recent one marred by a particularly malicious online culture. While much of the student body is generally disenchanted and uninterested in SSMU, the election drama habitually pulls many into the fray. Upon seeing the spectacle that each of the campaign pages had become, many students did not care which candidate was right or how they justified themselves, and decided that they did not want anyone who engaged in that sort of behaviour to represent them. In future elections, in order to prevent election issues from being overshadowed by vicious Facebook campaign pages and Reddit threads, candidates’ use of social media should be limited.
In theory, Facebook event pages and Reddit AMA sessions should help to facilitate dialogue about campus issues between students and those running to represent them. At McGill, they have given rise to a myriad of vindictive comments, posting of personal information, and allowed candidates to selectively respond to questions. Since I have attended McGill, online elections campaigns have polarized the student body, drawing far more users concerned with election drama than those who actually want to discuss ways to improve SSMU. While some students do use the Facebook pages to ask constructive questions about a candidate’s platform, the overall tone of these campaign pages is sarcastic and accusatory. Many questions remain unanswered or receive unwarranted backlash. Candidates themselves have even participated in mocking other students’ questions. Additionally, many posts rapidly diverge from the election topics and candidates all together, as students take turns insulting one another.
Social media has the great quality of quickly and easily transmitting information; however, it lacks accountability. Campaign pages quickly become awash with trolls who post offensive comments and seek to further exacerbate student tensions. Students have taken to posting outrageous personal attacks of candidates on their event pages and seek to find and publically denounce anything even slightly controversial that a candidate may have done in the past.
In forthcoming elections, restrictions must be placed on candidates use of social media. Admittedly, such action would remove an avenue of communication between students and those vying to represent them. Therefore, more opportunities for discussion between the student body and candidates need to be created. SSMU could host more debates with a longer duration and give students more chances to submit questions beforehand and during the elections via email, Twitter, and in person. A question box could even be placed in SSMU where students could anonymously submit questions. These inquiries would of course have to be reviewed before debate night to ensure that they actually pertain to the election. If these reforms are made students will no longer be able to simply hide behind screens and point fingers. This can assist in eliminating the bad-natured disputes that seems to characterise and consume every election.
SSMU has scheduled a discussion for all students—Restructuring SSMU—for Thursday, Nov. 26. Hopefully students will take this chance to voice the concerns that they have with the student union, and brainstorm ideas on how to improve future elections, starting with limiting social media. It’s by no means a perfect solution, but it’s a step towards improving election culture at McGill.