Lisa Sygutek - Pass Herald Publisher/Editor

Last week I attended the Alberta Municipalities Convention at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre.

As a Councillor, there is an expectation to attend such conventions as they include informative seminars on all thing’s government.

In attendance were delegates from most of the municipalities in Alberta (from summer villages to major cities); 1,100 delegates in total. This is the third convention I have been to, and I find this great way to meet my peers from other municipalities to discuss our ideas and gain insights into how their communities operate. Issues from attainable housing, to policing, to funding from the federal and provincial governments.

We heard speeches from each of the UCP leadership candidates, the Leader of the Opposition in Alberta as well as our outgoing Premier. We voted on resolutions that our association will bring forward to the provincial government.

All in all, it was a very a positive experience until one of the seminars I attended, The Weaponizing of Social Media, scared me so much I’m actually thinking of deleting my social media accounts.

The basis of the seminar was around the multitude of ways that social media can be used to rapidly disseminate information to mobilize people or groups towards certain beliefs of action. Essentially, social media posts can go viral because it tends to play on people’s emotions and biases. The posts can have both positive and negative intentions and real-world consequences.

For example, a GoFundMe post about a family that has lost their home to a fire can result in strangers deciding to donate. Similarly, an anti-coal special interest group can weaponize social media to demonize responsible coal extraction. The results of the latter can convince government and citizens to boycott, delay or ‘cancel’ projects. I think you can see that we have all faced that here in the Crowsnest Pass.

The presenter talked about rooms full of phones, all hooked up to a special machine that can randomly push ‘likes’ throughout the Facebook world. They can flood a post or account so fast that the amount of ‘hits’ brings huge awareness to any issue.

I think you can take certain a site as a microcosm of this behaviour. You create a post, someone grabs it onto a well-attended site and boom - it goes viral. Then the reader decides if they like it or not, and responds accordingly.

The problem with social media seems to be a lack of apparent rules. You can pretty much post what you want, factual or not, and the reader often doesn’t do the work to see if it is true. Here, in the paper, if I printed half of what is on social media I would be out of business because of lawsuits.

The ability of special interest groups to control the message, and their ability to flood the feeds, is what is so scary. They can demonize a person, an issue or an organization and there doesn’t appear to be an effective way to counter it.

How scary is that? Well, I’ll tell you it was scary enough for me to want to deactivate my social media accounts. I find it hard to do, perhaps because surfing certain social media sites can be relaxing, or perhaps it has become an addiction to being heard and seen. Either way I have a lot of soul-searching to do in order to determine how much I really want ‘out’ there!