Manitoba·Analysis

Jamie Hall's tweets easily avoidable political trap on social media

Despite numerous warning signs, Jamie Hall is the first but probably not the last to trip over his own social media posts in Manitoba's upcoming election.

Pitfalls of social media and politics are clear despite politicians constantly hitting them

Jamie Hall, right, stands with Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari in a photo posted on her Facebook page on Tuesday evening. (Rana Bokhari, Manitoba Liberal Party Leader/Facebook)

He hadn't even been a candidate 24 hours.

On Wednesday afternoon, newly minted Liberal candidate for Southdale Jamie Hall told reporters he was trying to decide whether to stay in the race after Twitter comments he made a few years ago referring to women as "whores" surfaced.

These tweets from Winnipeg-area Liberal candidate Jamie Hall are among those drawing criticism from the NDP. (@jamieianhall/Twitter)
The writ hasn't even been dropped, but already the Manitoba election has its first social media casualty.

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What's surprising here aren't his words, offensive as they are. It's that neither he nor the Manitoba Liberal Party did anything about them prior to his candidacy.

Lessons of the federal election

Just months ago, we endured the longest federal election in modern history. Candidates on all sides found themselves being tripped up by their own words on social media, in many cases in posts made years in advance of their candidacies.

If you are going to run for office, social media legacy is in play,- Mark Blevis, digital strategist

The examples were numerous, including a young Liberal in Calgary who, years earlier as a teen, made crude references to abortion.

In Montreal, a Conservative candidate was forced to step down over sexist comments he allegedly made in the comments section of the Journal de Montreal newspaper.

If those feel far removed from Manitoba, consider this: Winnipeg, now facing its third election in three years, is rife with cautionary tales of its own.

Remember 2014? Gord Steeves does. That's when his mayoral ambitions took a sharp turn for the worse, after old comments disparaging aboriginal people, made years before, were dug up on his wife's Facebook page.

In last year's federal election, the NDP dropped candidate Stefan Jonasson, after comments he made comparing an orthodox branch of Judaism to the Taliban surfaced.

All were clear warnings candidates and parties should have been considering in preparation for the election here.

"The fact this person didn't go through their history is a big problem," says Mark Blevis, a digitial strategist who monitors the role of social media in public affairs on his website markblevis.com.

"I think it says a lot for the party and the individual that no lessons were learned from the federal election."

Cleaning up the past

Now in fairness, would-be politicians don't have a monopoly on ill-advised posts.

Certainly a future political bid may not be front of mind when someone is about to hit send.

"Cleaning up" a timeline, removing potentially damaging posts, has rapidly become standard fare for many would-be and sitting politicians.

"If you are going to run for office, social media legacy is in play," says Blevis.

"If you don't take care in how you communicate, if you don't do the cleanup, it's fair game."

Liberal candidate Jamie Hall speaks to reporters at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday afternoon. (Kenza Kaghat/Radio-Canada)
Depending on the size of a candidate's social footprint, that's often easier said than done. All three parties grappled with this during the federal election and found themselves on the defensive just as easily as the offensive.

In Manitoba the NDP says "candidates are encouraged to review their posts and activities to ensure they are a respectful contribution to public debate and discussion." 

The Progressive Conservatives say they have "internal policies we expect all candidates to follow."

Neither will say outright whether candidates are being encouraged to remove posts, but it's reasonable to expect that candidates have been — just as anyone else with a social media account has the right to go back and remove a post.

At the same time, you can bet all three parties are scouring the timelines of the others' candidates, looking for anything that's been missed. This is simply the reality of modern-day politics; it's a double-edged sword.

In this case, was the NDP were the first to bring Hall's comments to light? (CBC News easily authenticated them by finding them online.) 

The Liberals quickly pointed to NDP candidate Wab Kinew, who found himself defending equally offensive words from a music video, also made years before he stepped into the political circle.

For his part, Hall says he feels removing his comments would be "disingenuous." However he has locked his Twitter feed, so the general public can't see it.

Tweeting out an apology, to the public, then backing it up with actions would mean more to those offended.

In the age of social media, it's inevitable politicians present and future will face the threat of being stepped on by their own digital footprints.

What is surprising in this case is no one tried to get out of the way.

If the Manitoba Liberals did look at Hall's timeline, they didn't look hard enough. 

To borrow loosely from a catchphrase made famous by the Liberals' federal cousins, it's 2016: This is how the game is played.

About the Author

Cameron MacIntosh

Senior reporter

Cameron MacIntosh is a senior reporter with CBC National News based in Winnipeg.

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