Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pity pols in the age of social media

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What could potentially serve as a useful, informative tool is in some instances turning into an unleashed monster. Woe betide those considering a run for public office in this day of social media.

The mayor of Toronto is an unfortunate example of this frenzy. Rob Ford has come under intense scrutiny in the past couple of years -- and certainly a case can be made that he's brought some of his troubles upon himself through questionable judgment.

But the latest salvo from an overly zealous public simply caught the mayor on video at a street festival in the city having a couple of beers. That should be pretty unremarkable for anyone. But once posted online, the images come under the scrutiny of everyone critical of this mayor, and he is accused of being drunk in public.

Although these shots didn't show Ford carrying on, or off-kilter, all it takes is hype to get a 'drunk in public' allegation up and running.

Greg Elmer of Toronto's Ryerson University said people have turned into "social-media paparazzi" where public figures are concerned. In Ford's case, it comes following still unresolved questions of an alleged video appearing to show Ford smoking crack cocaine.

Sidneyeve Matrix, a social-media expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., compared this latest expose to a "TMZ mindset," with people "interested in looking at images of celebrities and other public figures when they're at their worst."

The voyeuristic trend to peek into the private lives of celebs and political leaders has increased in past decades. It's reaching a zenith with the capabilities provided by cellphone cameras and instant Internet access. Couple that with the eagerness of some viewers to trash the subject through comments and we have given way to a presumption of guilt in evaluating people.

What are the implications -- in Toronto, or Nova Scotia, or anywhere? Prospective candidates for office have yet another tough consideration to make before deciding to commit.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2013 A13

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