Investigations into digital campaigning tactics to follow 2018 Ontario election
Politically-minded Ontarians should keenly observe how parties detect, dissect and expose the evasive steps of their opponents.
By Liam B. Twomey
June 1, 2018
As the 2018 provincial election nears, political parties and third-parties continue to deploy their sophisticated campaign strategies. These actors are using various quotes and numbers, manicured into engaging content as volleys to sway the voting behavior of Ontarians. Undoubtedly, a political information war is being waged on screens throughout the province. It is often quipped that it is not politicians that win elections, but rather the political strategists they employ. In the modern day one could narrow this concept and claim that a digital campaign strategy is the engine which drives a politician towards success. However, campaigning has and will continue to be a field mired in unscrupulous practices. The actors engaged in digital campaigning for this election are likely to devote significant efforts to expose any transgressions from their rivals. There has been no shortage of scandals this year alone and it is probable that more will be uncovered after the election.
Digital campaigning for parties operates in parallel to digital marketing for products and services. Both operate by segmenting the population into various groups. Strategists use a myriad of factors including, but not exhausting age, gender, income, location and interests to conduct segmenting. Next, they identify the most ideal groups called target markets; target markets are demographics unique to each party. Then strategists deploy specific ads towards the target markets and monitor their performance. If you are seeing recurring political ads, it is most likely because you fit into a very specific archetype and they want your attention and your vote. Each one of these steps can be probed for infringements on rights or regulations. Actors will scrutinize how their opponents obtained the data to conduct segmenting. Parties may inquire why their adversaries prioritized certain demographics while ignoring others. How strategists deploy content towards target demographics will also be brought under the examining table. Strategists may also deflect responsibility by contracting certain services throughout the digital campaign.
Digital ads are a cost effective and significant component of the campaigning budget. More people are taking to social media and going online every day. Any strategist would be foolish not to allocate a significant portion of their advertising budget towards digital platforms. However, like all campaigning, digital advertising during the campaign period is regulated. Furthermore, new rules governing election advertising have been introduced. Third-parties will now have their advertising spending capped and will not be able to donate to political parties. Also, the limit for personal contributions is now significantly lower. Actors may find ingenious ways to skirt these new rules. For example, parties may transfer funds to various organizations engaging in online activism to avoid overspending their limit. Who constitutes a third-party may come under closer scrutiny in the digital age. This is not a complete list of evasive tactics, there are many avenues parties and third-parties can take to dodge the grips of regulators.
While this election will bring forward innovative and honest digital campaigning approaches, it will also reveal many underhanded techniques. Investigations into digital campaigning are a near certainty during and after the 2018 Ontario election. Parties cannot rely on disgruntled insiders and whistleblowers to present valuable leads. They will need to be incredibly creative and meticulous in their efforts. We should also be following who is exposing whom, as these are highly political decisions as well. How various media outlets report on the scandals is also a significant point to consider. It is often media outlets themselves, and not opposing parties which reveal key infringements. Once transgressions are exposed they will be brought to the attention of the Chief Electoral Officer and possibly, the appropriate law enforcement agency. We may find that some practices are not illegal or contravene any regulation but are disreputable. New regulations might be put into effect after abuses surrounding digital campaigning are laid bare. These discoveries have the power to shape the landscape for the following term and future elections.