A Twitter change by incumbent mayoral candidate Cam Guthrie has led to calls for reform of social media policies regarding election campaigns.
Earlier this week Guthrie changed his regular Twitter account, which was used in the past to promote a variety of city initiatives and seek public feedback, to focus on his re-election campaign.
While this isn’t a violation of city rules, as confirmed by the city’s clerk, it has prompted calls for the policy to be updated to specifically address the “incumbent advantage” such a switch provides in reaching prospective voters.
“It’s an issue of the incumbents potentially capitalizing on the membership … garnered by virtue of having held office,” said Julie Simmons, associate professor in the political science department at the University of Guelph. “This is an opportunity for the future council and mayor to perhaps review this issue.”
Approached for comment by GuelphToday, Guthrie issued the following statement via email:
“This issue can be discussed after October 24th. We’re in the crunch time of the election. Especially with advance polls opening this weekend. I’m busy out at doors across the city encouraging people to vote and talking to citizens and businesses about what’s important to them such as affordability, housing and safety.”
Guthrie announced on Tuesday his re-election campaign Twitter account, with its 1,657 followers, would be managed by his campaign team while he would use his standard account, with 22,000 followers, as his "official campaign account."
He also changed the name of the account from Mayor Cam Guthrie to Mayor Candidate Cam Guthrie and replaced the profile photo to one of him standing with a re-election sign.
“That, to me, is problematic,” said Guelph resident David Gibson, who equates the account shift to the mayor “putting his thumb on the scale” to give himself an advantage over other candidates because their accounts haven’t benefited from being a way for residents to reach out on city issues. “I find it concerning.”
Gibson, along with several social media commentators, is calling for revisions to the rules around social media use by incumbent candidates to ensure their re-election accounts are separate from their regular ones – something other incumbent candidates have done.
“One can’t say the mayor’s doing something incorrect,” said Simmons. “A more developed policy needs to be in place.”
While local city policies don’t specifically address the issue of using established social media accounts for re-election campaigns, providing no city resources are used, some other municipalities do.
For example, in Toronto council members “must not use a social media account that identifies them as ‘councillor’ or ‘mayor’ and the city’s integrity commissioner recommends people seeking re-election maintain accounts dedicated to their re-election efforts.
“If a member wishes to ‘convert’ a social account that identifies the member as a member of council or uses city resources, to one used for campaign purposes, specific actions (e.g. notification to followers and removal of the title ‘councillor’) are required before the member files their nomination papers and they should seek advice from the integrity commissioner,” states a report titled 2022 Municipal Election Requirements from the City of Toronto’s integrity commissioner.