My flatmates grew increasingly restless throughout last week, frustrated about being inundated with Facebook messages advertising Junior Common Room Committee (JCRC) election candidates. They are not without a point. Since the JCRC elections began my Facebook has been barraged with group invitations begging for support.
Sceptics may say that using Facebook is a very lazy way to campaign, despite being effective at generating support. While hustings gave students the opportunity to hear from the candidates directly before voting, the majority of my college chose not to attend. Would it be based on whichever Facebook friend happened to request their support? More importantly, would they vote at all? One candidate admitted to me that voting ultimately comes down to the amount of friends they have who are willing to vote. It raises questions as to whether election promises are truly worth making.
There is no consistent policy across colleges to cover online campaigning for JCRC elections. Some do not allow use of certain features, some have no restrictions at all. When the results are out for all races, and the dust has settled, perhaps the variations in turnout and competitiveness will offer some insight into the wisdom of which policy is better.
For many of us, a Facebook invitation is the extent of our involvement in these elections
The consensus of the enthused electorate that I know (many of whom stayed in to watch I’m a Celebrity… Get me out of here! during the college hustings) agrees that they will vote for anyone familiar, if they even bother to vote at all, making the whole process more of a popularity contest than an election based on a candidate’s merits.
For many of us, a Facebook invitation is the extent of our involvement in these elections. It could mean that candidates who are not quite so Facebook savvy are less likely to win, despite what they could do to enhance our JCR, bringing down the potential quality significantly.
So does that make Facebook the best way to win a campaign? It seems so. I know I will more than likely vote for my friends after being made aware of their campaigns online. I cannot say though that I have questioned the promises that they are making or considered the likelihood that they will follow them through if elected. But what if Facebook had not been used as part of the JCR campaigns? Then I, and no doubt many others, would probably not be voting at all.
Of course perspective must be maintained. While they are not world changing elections, a bad tone is being set for those of us, myself included, for which these are our experience of university democracy. Let’s hope it does not continue.