What the Election Campaign has Taught me about Social Media, and Vice Versa

I guess I am slow, inherently conservative, or a coward. After nearly two years of blogging, I have finally learned the incredible utility and power of social media. This federal election campaign has reinforced the point.

Last year I set up a Twitter account and began to experiment with the medium. I follow 133 people, institutions and agencies and have learned how useful and fun it is to plug into what’s going on in real-time. Riding on the streetcar, waiting for the bus, standing in a TIFF line, I can flip through the latest tweets very quickly on my smart phone and find out what is happening. I can catch newspaper articles or videos I missed, interesting analyses, news about TTC delays or local emergencies, notices of upcoming events. All in 140-digit bites.

But for a tweet I received while waiting for a TIFF film last week, I would not have known about the Up For Debate event on women’s issues Monday evening. It would have passed me by. That would have been too bad. It was great fun to see people whom I had “lost” from my past. I loved meeting women whose names I recognized but had never actually met. I would have missed hearing the new leaders of the women’s movement, and seeing the vitality of the many young activists present. I likely would not have known that the discussion was live streamed and videos of the participating leaders (everyone but Stephen Harper) are available for your viewing at the Federal Election 2015 women’s issues page of the Toronto Star website

That tweet allowed me to plug into the modern women’s movement and consider how the position of women has improved, or not, since my activist days. The vocabulary used today is different. Equality now extends to diversity and the complications of multiculturalism. The current controversy over wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony is an example. What precisely are the rights at issue? And what harms have been attributed to Zunera Ishaq because of what she chooses to wear?

When speakers talk broadly about “the oppression of women” in Canadian society, I can’t help comparing contemporary opportunities for women with what existed in the 1960s and 1970s. And when “the big news” of the event was that Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau volunteered that they were “feminists,” what’s the big deal? My husband, our sons, and many of their cohort have called themselves “feminists” for years. Of course, there are many definitions of feminism and different perceptions of how it should be manifest in practice. That’s the rub.

I understand that “the glass ceiling” and tokenism, sexist environments and sexual harassment, economic insecurity and dependence, primary responsibility for child care and for elder care, the high cost and paucity of quality care for children and seniors, under-representation of women in Parliament, violence against women, particularly aboriginal and First Nations women, these and many other issues remain. Although labelled “women’s issues,” these are really human issues affecting everyone. But the services, structures and institutions which previously existed to encourage advocacy and give federal support to these issues have been defunded, closed down, or relegated to the private sector. Clearly. there is much work to do, and the Up For Debate campaign is to be commended for holding our politicians to account.

Getting back to Twitter, I was greatly impressed by how Elizabeth May and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi used Twitter during the Globe and Mail debate last week. On Friday, a friend and I came up with the hashtag #Maysin, trying to start a trend that would encourage Harper and Mulcair to take part in the proposed “consortium” National Leaders Debate, including Elizabeth May. Alas, using Twitter for such a purpose requires effort and a basic modicum of skill about the medium. What’s the best “hashtag”? What “handles” to address? How to do direct messages? When to retweet? Apparently, it is quite easy.

I now understand why so many public figures tweet so often, and why they have so many followers. What better way to keep in touch, and to share ideas and interests with others? A friend reminded me of the importance of Twitter on the international scene: bringing down the government of Egypt, challenging the government in Iran. As he said, if Twitter has so much utility in these circumstances, we should understand how it works.

I am now inspired to do just that. I have now tweeted 120 times and have 25 followers. Not many, but a start. It is so much easier (and faster) to “retweet” something of interest than to prepare a post on a blog, send out emails, or use the telephone. It is the difference between email and texting, multiplied by the number of followers you have. Had others in my circle been on Twitter last week, I could have retweeted news of the Up For Debate event to my followers instantly and we could have gone together. Or we could have joined forces to get our demand for “the real National Leaders Debate” organized by the national media and including Elizabeth May out to a broader audience.

If you are at all interested in learning about this technology, you might want to set up a Twitter account, search for my handle, MarionELane, and then follow me. Or tweet me @MarionELane. I will follow you and then we can share tweets.

Those who have been on Facebook for years will know that Twitter is likely an extension of Facebook, providing shorter, more instantaneous, more focused communications, from many more sources. Because of this experience, I am finally moving onto Facebook as Marion Lane. I have sent out some “Friend” requests and would welcome such requests from you. Just as computers, iPads and iPhones are best suited for particular uses, I look forward to comparing which of these two best serves different purposes. Please join me in this venture and let’s discover social media together. If you have any tips, don’t hesitate to use the Comment section below.

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