Social media can be Achilles heel for politicians, aides

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all give politicians great exposure, but offensive online posts can come back to haunt candidates on the campaign trail.

Candidates from all camps turfed over social media slurs

Shawn Dearn, director of communications for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, apologized Tuesday for tweets targeting the Catholic Church. (@shawndearn/Twitter)

Social media accounts give election candidates unparalleled visibility — and as all the major parties know, that isn't always a good thing.

On Labour Day weekend, the Conservatives were forced to drop Toronto-Danforth candidate Tim Dutaud after he was found to have posted videos of himself making crank calls on YouTube — in one, he posed as a mentally disabled man; in another, he feigned an orgasm.

Late Tuesday, the director of communications for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair apologized after two-year-old tweets surfaced in which he took aim at the Roman Catholic Church. Shawn Dearn used an expletive in reference to Pope Benedict for saying Britain's human-rights policy on gay equality violated natural law.

Tim Dutaud was dropped as the Conservative candidate in the Toronto-Danforth riding over offensive YouTube videos posted several years ago. (LinkedIn)

"Memo to CBC and all media," one of the two-year-old tweets reads. "Stop calling the misogynist, homophobic, child-molesting Catholic Church a 'moral authority.' It's not."

In a tweet to his followers late Tuesday, Dearn apologized.

"Some tweets that predated my current role were offensive and do not reflect my views," he said. "They are being deleted and I apologize sincerely."

It was not clear how the past tweets resurfaced. In the meantime, Dearn's Twitter account has been locked and is no longer accessible to the public. 

Mulcair is standing by his aide.

"He has apologized for those views," he told reporters when asked about the remarks in Niagara Falls, Ont. "His apology was sincere. He felt very bad about it and I'm more than willing to move on from that."

According to Steve Ladurantaye, head of news and government partnerships at Twitter Canada, such discoveries are unsurprising now that social media has been around long enough that candidates have a decade or more of material stored online.

"You've had nine years of Twitter to tweet things with," he said. "Only a couple of weeks of those were during your campaign when you're actually thinking about what you're tweeting from a political standpoint."

Dutaud's incident is one in a series of questionable or embarrassing online posts by candidates that have been pounced on by media and opponents during the first weeks of the federal election campaign.

  • The Conservatives showed the door to Montreal candidate Augustin Ali Kitoko after he shared an album of photos from NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's Facebook page.
  • Another Tory candidate in Montreal, Gilles Guibord, was forced to resign over sexist comments he allegedly made in online comments section of the Journal de Montreal newspaper.
  • A young Liberal candidate in Alberta, Ala Buzreba, resigned after four-year-old tweets surfaced of her telling someone they should have been aborted with a coat hanger and another to "go blow your brains out." She apologized for the comments.
  • An NDP candidate in Nova Scotia, Morgan Wheeldon, was forced to resign after suggesting in a 2014 Facebook post that Israel was engaged in "ethnic cleansing."
  • Soheil Eid, a Tory candidate in Joliette, Que., apologized twice for a Facebook post that drew a parallel between the words of Mulcair and comments attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's infamous propaganda minister.
  • Wiliam Moughrabi, Conservative candidate in the Montreal riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, had to erase online comments that were deemed violent and misogynist in nature.
  • VirJiny Provost, a young Bloc Québécois candidate in Megantic-L'Erable, embarrassed her party after a survey she answered came to light. Asked what she would need in the event of a nuclear attack, Provost wrote she'd bring "her cellphone, a penis and chips."
  • Sue MacDonell, a board member for the Conservatives' Bay of Quinte Electoral District Association, was fired after she posted on Facebook that a Cree woman recently crowned Mrs. Universe was a monster and a "smug entitled Liberal pet."

The list of blunders is likely to grow as there are still several weeks left in the marathon campaign. 

More blunders likely

Ladurantaye said what strikes him most about the campaign is not what he calls "individual bozo moments," but rather the ability of social media to magnify incidents and even change the campaign.

Ala Buzreba, the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-Nose Hill, apologized for offensive messages on her Twitter account she posted as a teen. She later bowed out of the race. (liberal.ca)

He pointed to Conservative candidate Joe Oliver cancelling a speech at a men-only club amid a social media backlash, or the video of now-former Conservative candidate Jerry Bance caught in 2012 in a secret CBC video urinating in a homeowner's coffee mug.

In the past, such incidents would have made the news for a few days but not necessarily caused resignations or event cancellations, he said.

"Things that would have boiled and disappeared now have a more immediate fallout."

With files from CBC News


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