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Political campaigns in full gear online

In decades past, politicians wore out shoe leather and bruised knuckles knocking on doors to reach voters, but it appears that in coming months, the general election in a very large way will be fought online.

Many local politicians know this and they already have widespread presence on the blogs, and frequently post on the popular social networking site Facebook.

In recent days, scores of Facebook enthusiasts have replaced smiling profile”pics”with one color–gold or red.

Diehard supporters of the Progressive Liberal Party(PLP)and the Free National Movement(FNM)have tagged hundreds of”friends”as the battle for political power takes shape on the World Wide Web in a major way.

On Facebook, FNM”red stormers”are urged to”help out your Facebook friends who need the picture by tagging them in the red photo, so that they can have it on their page and then they can make the switch.”

Gold photos, meanwhile, advise”It’s PLP time.”

No longer do politicians have to depend on traditional media to get their messages out. It seems almost by the minute, new releases and new information are popping up, and would-be voters–mostly the young, but also the more seasoned ones–are having their say.

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts continues to be stationed in front of his computer churning out the party’s message, slamming the government on its performance–and in some cases the media too.

On Friday, while some media houses had missed the news of the PLP ratifying another six candidates–including a 25-year-old Spanish Wells fisherman–the chairman was spreading the information online of the”very impressive list of candidates.”

It’s hard to find a local politician these days without a Facebook profile. Those who don’t use social networking sites to their advantage could be missing out on a lot.

FNM Chairman Carl Bethel noted that recent experiences in the Arab world have underscored the importance and power of social networking sites.

Facebook today is providing a social forum for the online dissemination of different ideas on all manner of topics, Bethel noted.

“Facebook and other social media are proving to be tools of social organization in many ways–whether charitable or for political purposes,”the chairman said.

Bethel noted that the FNM now has a’red storm’campaign going on.’FNM Videos’, as it is called on Facebook, is also aggressively promoting the party’s agenda and highlighting its accomplishments as a government.

Like PLPs and politicians from third parties, some FNM MPs have developed Internet-based newsletters and discussion boards. Bethel said he believes that Killarney MP Dr. Hubert Minnis has been most effective at this.

“This gives a level of connectivity through an online forum,”Bethel said.

“It’s a permanent contact to which a reasonable MP must respond. That’s the beauty of the internet in terms of the ability to mobilize and submit oneself to direct contact on a daily basis with any constituent who has questions or concerns. To that extent it is an extremely valuable resource for persons in public life.”

Jerome Fitzgerald, the PLP’s candidate for Marathon, said if Facebook and other sites are properly utilized, they could have a significant influence on the outcome of the elections.

“It really is an efficient way to be in contact with a lot of constituents and always gives them a way to communicate with you instantaneously which I find to be quite helpful,”said Fitzgerald, who is currently a PLP senator.

“In our meetings some of the younger members have said categorically that all of them(candidates)need to be on(Facebook).”

He said more and more older PLPs are being converted to the technological age.

“The population has shifted. There’s a lot of the younger population and the candidates have to understand that and if they don’t adjust I fear they may pay the price for it,”Fitzgerald said.

But there’s a downside to this widespread use of theWorld Wide Web in campaigning, and Fitzgerald said he’s had personal experience with it–character attacks.

“That’s the only unfortunate part of it, not knowing the veracity of information,”the senator said.

“Online, people can post all sort of stuff. That’s just a part of it. That’s where the information age is going to and unfortunately not everyone is responsible. We’ve all been victims of[character attacks]but that’s a part of it.”

While many politicians spend part of their day online reading the temperature of bloggers,’friends’and’fans’, they must recognize that this can never replace the personal touch many voters still want, according to Bethel.

“At the end of the day people elect a person, not an image of a person,”the FNM chairman said.

“They elect a human being, not a digital entity.”

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