The following Op-Ed was published in the Union Leader August 13, 2020
In these polarized times, social media has become a battleground. We all have friends who are, shall we say, outspoken. But what if that outspoken individual happens to be a candidate for office?
Voters, including the Cornerstone team, are looking for ways we can truly understand the people who will be representing us. It’s never been more important than it is now. The legislative environment is challenging to say the least. We want candidates who are not only principled, but who are able to work in an often contentious environment.
How do we find the candidates who will make us proud and not give us buyer’s regret? Voting records and surveys tell us something. Beyond that data, we need to know how that candidate will conduct him/herself once in office. That’s where social media can be invaluable.
When you evaluate the candidates who are asking for your vote, consider how they represent themselves and communicate online. Here are a few things to look out for:
- What language does your candidate use? Being honest and straightforward is good. Being abusive is not.
- Does your candidate provide thoughtful or inappropriate comments? In these highly partisan times, we need to foster communication, not add to the vitriol. When a candidate reacts defensively and angrily, it only serves to feed the current climate of tribalism.
- What does your candidate’s personal Facebook page show? A candidate’s “official” campaign page on Facebook is likely to be more formal (scripted) than his or her personal Facebook profile. Voters can usually see both. A candidate’s personal posts and comments are often more revealing than his/her official page. If there’s a sharp difference in tone or content, trust the personal page to be a more accurate reflection of how he or she will conduct him/herself in office.
- When someone attacks or misrepresents a candidate, how does he or she respond? “Don’t feed the trolls” is a basic social media rule. A candidate who can maintain composure and message discipline online is far more likely to do the same thing once in office than one who does not.
- Is your candidate trolling others? By the same token, if a candidate him/herself behaves like a troll online and seems to enjoy starting those online firestorms, that behavior will likely carry over into office, too.
A candidate may check off all the “right” boxes on a survey or campaign platform but fail in presenting a mature and thoughtful approach online. For those who look deeper, that is a clear indication of trouble ahead should they take office. On the other hand, a candidate whose message is honest, positive, and consistent has a much better chance of having the difficult conversations needed to effect change and helping to build a strong and cohesive legislative team.