Facebook. Love it or hate, it’s as much part of our world-wide social fabric today as the telephone has been for much of the 20th century and into 21st.
Canadians are among some of the most active users of this social medium in the world. Toward the end of 2014 Facebook Canada reported that 14 million Canadians log in at least once every day from their home or work PC, and 15 million log in at least once a month from a tablet or mobile device.
I am unashamedly a Facebook user on more than just a daily basis. It is my primary vehicle for communicating with friends and acquaintances those aspects of my life that I hold important. Humour is a big part of my life because I believe in its medicinal and healing powers, especially in a world so entrenched in terror, tragedy and uncertainty about our future.
I try to do my part to fight against the negativism of our world by sharing some original and ‘discovered’ jokes on Facebook each day. If I go a day or two without posting something humorous, a few of my friends begin scanning the obituaries in search of my name. Beyond humour and jokes, I use Facebook to share what I deem to be relevant news stories and current events, especially as they affect us in Windsor-Essex.
But most importantly, I use Facebook to share positive and heart warming stories of our human condition – especially pictures and antics of my incredibly adorable greyhound, Victoria.
The former Windsor City Council that served from 2010 to 2014 was somewhat Facebook -shy.
As the TVCogeco municipal reporter covering this body since 2003, I have had many occasions to reach out to our elected officials, but few of them were accessible via Facebook. By my count, Mayor Eddie Francis, Councillors Fulvio Valentinis, Ron Jones and Jo-Anne Gignac did not have personal Facebook accounts.
It appears that Hillary Payne created one in the fall of 2014 to use in his re-election campaign, and Percy Hatfield did not have a personal account, although a ‘Page” was created for him when he ran for his current provincial seat.
The councillors who did have a personal Facebook account were Bill Marra, Ed Sleiman, Drew Dilkens, Alan Halberstadt and Al Maghnieh (and Irek Kusmierczyk when he replaced Percy Hatfield in year four of their mandate). These latter councillors were certainly not shy in their use of Facebook in communicating with their constituents.
This was especially evident during the Al Maghnieh matter in 2011 and 2012 concerning his misuse of the library board corporate credit cards for personal expenses. Plenty of postings, positive and negative, were exchanged by some of these councillors on this issue, as well as on a number of other headline capturing issues.
By contrast, our current Windsor City Council body is much more “Facebook” friendly than their predecessors, and very robust in their use of it. Leading by example is Mayor Drew Dilkens who frequently makes use of this medium to reach out to Windsor residents on matters of municipal importance.
All the councillors, with the exception of Jo-Anne Gignac, have personal Facebook accounts and use it to varying degrees in communicating with their constituents. Newcomers Rino Bortolin, Chris Holt, Paul Borrelli (and Kusmierczyk) – and veteran councillor, Marra – appear to be making the greatest use of Facebook posts.
In the past year there have been many important issues discussed by councillors on Facebook: the hiring of an independent Auditor General, the proposed Mega Hospital – location and funding, Windsor Essex Economic Development Commission, the 2016 Budget, the creation of a municipal Sports Czar position, revisiting ‘fake ice’ at Charles Clarke Square – just to name a few. In addition, councillors have taken to “Facebook” to reach out to their constituents for opinions and input on ward-specific issues. Closures of pools, libraries and community centres come to mind.
Ward 3 Councilor Bortolin, one of the councilors making frequent use of Facebook, responded to my request (via Facebook message) to express his views on why he uses Facebook and its effectiveness: “As a councilor, I look for as much input and transparency as possible. Continuous contact with the electorate is a great tool in gauging public support or opposition on issues. Facebook has allowed me to access the opinions of residents immediately and directly.
Above all it allows the residents to have clear and consistent access to their representative. I have found, more than anything else, residents want to be heard and listened to.
Using social media like Facebook allows me to listen and respond quickly to issues as they happen. By creating a continuous dialogue on my social media platforms I hope to foster a sense of trust and openness that is tough to manage without that access. People who interact with me on “Facebook” are getting an unfiltered real perspective on my views and positions. More than ever before we can get a real idea of who our representatives really are.”
Canadian philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan’s famous saying, “the medium is the message,” holds true for Facebook and other social media.
But Facebook and other social media allows the medium to go even further than just imparting ‘content’ or knowledge that can be gleaned from multiple media sources. It allows for, and encourages, viewer reaction and, more importantly, viewer interaction with others. And it is in this free exchange of ideas and opinions among Windsor-Essex residents that our current city councillor’s use of Facebook is spot on.
In their use of Facebook , the councillors and mayor save ‘face’ through responsible and consultative governance.