Candidates caught up in the Web

Taking a leaf, or rather a webpage, out of Barack Obama’s online campaigning strategy, candidates in Cayman’s upcoming election are turning to the Web to canvas electors.

Political nominees are still planning to beat a well-worn campaign trail on hustings by holding public meetings and knocking on doors, but many are launching websites, emailing constituents and joining Facebook to get their message across.

Of the 43 candidates running for election, nine have Facebook pages.

The United Democratic Party only had 18 friends on its Facebook page by Thursday afternoon, but since it only launched last Monday, it is early days for party’s online efforts. The party also has its own website, giving updates on its public meetings and biographies of the 11 candidates on the party’s slate.

The People’s Progressive Movement party’s website currently contains one page, a static listing of two upcoming events in April – a national council meeting on 4 April and a national campaign launch on 7 April – and a contact number to arrange for transportation to those meetings. A search on Facebook does not show any results for a PPM page as of Thursday.

Several of the independent candidates have already embraced the Internet in their campaigns, although the campaigns of others appear to be entirely absent on the Web.

Eddie Thompson, running as an independent in George Town, set up a Facebook page for his campaign shortly after he announced his candidacy for George Town this month and by Tuesday had 107 friends. He said he was also in the process of setting up a campaign Website.

‘We decided when we set up the Facebook page that we wanted to involve the youth. We wanted to maximise their input as well as their involvement. We found that it is hard to reach them. They don’t want to take the time to go to the meetings and sit down and listen to the people as was traditionally done,’ he said.

Mr. Thompson is also using text messaging and email to canvas potential voters, but said that so far, Facebook was currently showing the best results.

‘Obama’s [online] campaign worked because he used commonsense. To me, it reaffirmed what I believed and gave me that much more confidence to go forward with this approach,’ he added.

President Obama successfully utilised the internet as a fundraising and organising tool throughout his campaign.

The candidate in Cayman who has been making the most use of online technology in the early days of electioneering has been Bodden Town independent candidate Sandra Catron.

As well as having a Website and a Facebook page, posting on message boards and sending out weekly emails, she even has an avatar – a computerised alter-ego who welcomes visitors to her site.

‘I use technology because I live it. I’m a young person and technology is a big part of my world as well.

‘The majority of people have some access to various technological devices, whether Blackberries, Internet, email at work. It’s an excellent and effective way to communicate with people,’ Ms Catron said.

She originally set up her Facebook page as a personal page before running for election, so many of the more than 400 friends linked to her page were already friends.

She said she loved President Obama’s campaign Website and checked it regularly. ‘Obama ran a very effective campaign and I think for anyone who is running a campaign or who is a politician, it would be foolish of them not to look at what he did and how effective he was.’

Independent West Bay candidate Paul Rivers is another candidate who is using Facebook to reach out to voters and raise his online profile. He has two Facebook pages, one as an individual, with 57 friends, and one as a candidate with 47 members.

Mr. Rivers said it was still early in his campaign and he planned to set up a Website.

‘Facebook seems to be serving its purpose. I’m sure we’ll be setting up a Website soon. Obviously the Web is all around the world, that’s how word spreads fast. It gets the message across.

‘I’m going to explore all the options, via the media, newspapers and the Internet. It’s a communications tool. I always say the simplest comparison is a car runs on four wheels. If you get a flat, you need a spare, so you need other options and avenues as backup plans,’ he said.

Bodden Town Independent candidate Justin Woods set up his Facebook group page last week specifically for networking and campaign purposes. He is also about to launch his own Website for the campaign and contacts potential voters via email and text messages.

‘Facebook has proved very effective as I have connected with many colleagues and voters from the Bodden Town area,’ he said.

With nearly 10,000 people connected to the Cayman Islands Facebook network, Cayman is likely to see more candidates popping up and looking for people to befriend them between now and the 20 May election.

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