Beyond the Headlines

Robo-calls, Twitter and dirty tricks

Posted: Feb 28, 2012 11:57 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 28, 2012 11:57 AM ET
"Dirty tricks" and politics have been synonymous for as long as people have been seeking elected office.
 
But in recent days, Canadians have seen technology and social media take the art to a whole new level.
 
First there are the now infamous "robo-calls".
 
Evidence is growing that in almost 40 ridings across the country (including two in Nova Scotia) someone used sophisticated phone technology to automatically dial targeted voters. In some cases, voters were told to go to the wrong polling stations. Others received rude or harassing phone calls with the implications that the calls were coming from Liberal or NDP supporters.  Some of those calls have been traced to an Edmonton company with close ties to the Conservative party.
 
While the robo-calls required voters lists, information on which party the voter was likely to support, and the computers to make thousands of phone calls over a short period of time, the second scandal required nothing more sophisticated then a Twitter account.
 
After Public Safety Minister Vic Toews accused opponents of his governments internet monitoring legislation of "standing with child pornographers" someone using a House of Parliament IP address opened a Twitter account under the name @Vikileaks30. They then proceeded to expose lurid details of Toews' divorce, 140 characters at a time. Needless to say, the tweets spread like wildfire, and soon the mainstream media was all over the story.
 
No doubt this will be just the tip of the iceberg. As technology and social media change the way we communicate, some politicians and their minions who are determined to win at all costs, will find new ways to find that competitive advantage, even if it bends or breaks the rules.
 
But, it seems as more things change, at least one thing stays the same. A lack of accountability.
 
So far, in both these cases, low-level staffers are taking the fall. In spite of the number of ridings involved and the similarities, the leadership of the Conservative party insist they knew nothing about the robo-calls. A Conservative staffer, Michael Sona, who had worked on the campaign in Guelph, resigned from his job on Parliament Hill. Defence Minister Peter MacKay even went as far as suggesting Sona's resignation should be the end of it.
 
"I think they've identified the individual that was involved in this, and this is certainly not something our party condones," he said.
 
Liberal leader Bob Rae, says a Liberal staffer, Adam Carroll was behind the Vikileaks account. Carroll, has of course, resigned and Bob Rae has apologized to Toews. But again Rae, and other Liberals insist the staffer acted alone and without authority.
 
Both explanations are clearly possible, but they have many Canadians asking if they are plausible.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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