During the campaign period for this year’s UMGSA election, the Gradzette released a series of online video interviews with each of the 17 candidates through the Gradzette’s Facebook page and the Manitoban’s YouTube page.
Although this was approved by the election’s CRO, it was the catalyst for exposing an antiquated rule in the association’s election campaign manual pertaining to social media usage. Candidates are barred from online campaigning activities.
After the videos were uploaded and several candidates were tagged in their respective interviews (some by themselves and some by the Gradzette writing staff), the UMGSA representatives asked Gradzette staff to untag the candidates, saying it violated the election policy.
Currently, the election manual states that, “social network sites such as Facebook etc. are not permitted as campaigning vehicles.”
Karalyn Dokurno, the active co-CRO – who came in as a replacement at the end of the election – explained that the rationale for this policy, initiated by a previous UMGSA executive, is twofold: first, since the CRO is responsible for monitoring all campaign messages to ensure fairness, it would be difficult to monitor all social media messages due to their frequency, and the potential inaccessibility presented by private group chats; secondly, social media was not as pervasive when the policy was drawn up as it is today, therefore it may have provided a disadvantage to candidates not familiar with, or using, social media.
When asked what would be the best way for this rule to be dealt with in future elections, Dukurno stated that it is best to either keep the rule as it exists and ban all forms of social media campaigning, or let each candidate employ social media platforms with similar rules to those of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), the body that represents undergraduate students on campus.
UMSU’s election rules are much more liberal regarding social media use. Slates of candidates running for executive roles for the union or various student faculty associations regularly form Facebook pages to promote their platforms and share information about themselves.
The new UMGSA president Carl Neumann, as well as presidential candidate Ikra Iftekhar Shuvo and vice-president academic candidate Tasneem Vahora from the opposing slate, all agree there has to be policy changes regarding social media usage by candidates.
Two incidents occurred during this year’s election involving social media for which the CRO and election committee handed out equal punishment to all candidates involved – from both slates – for violating the current rules stated in the election manual. One incident involved sending campaign material to a large student email list, while the other incident involved writing comments on a Facebook page during the voting period.
This raised another issue amongst current election procedures. Specifically, how the election committee members – totalling four, who are not known to any of the candidates – and CRO, are selected by current UMGSA executives. Additionally, there is no formal policy that details or allows candidates to appeal the decisions made by the election committee and CRO during the election.
Shuvo and Vahora believe that transparency around selection for the election committee and CRO needs to be increased.
With regards to changing the social media policy, Neumann said, “the bylaws and policy committee had already begun discussions regarding the best way to move forward on updating the current social media campaigning rules in the elections policy.”
To form the UMGSA’s new social media policy, Neumann indicated that a member from the bylaws and policy committee would be looking into how other student bodies, such as UMSU, deal with this issue.
“I will continue to work with the committee to determine the best ways to improve the elections policy, including greater clarity regarding the role of the CRO and the elections committee in any formal appeal process, as well as regarding any penalties or remedies that can be applied in cases of electoral misconduct.” Neumann said.
With the new academic year comes the opportunity for new forms of engagement and this year the UMGSA has to take that opportunity to change their social media policy.
Based on my interactions with past and present UMGSA members, as well as other graduate students that I have met during my time as managing editor of the Gradzette, it is clear that graduate students are either unaware of the UMGSA or apathetic about the organization.
Additionally, as a commuter university with a poor history of student engagement at the undergraduate and graduate level, it is counter-intuitive to continue a prohibition on the use of social media by UMGSA candidates.
Social media provides candidates with a chance to reach out to as many graduate students as possible to let them know about the existence of the UMGSA as well as begin the process to increase graduate student engagement with the University of Manitoba.