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Hiding behind social media: the medium is the message for modern politicians

Posted on 7 September 2021 by Ryan Dahlman

Sitting in his office and his saddle bronco rodeo statue in plain view, Jason Kenney addressed Albertans on his Facebook page. 

What, didn’t know about it? Perhaps a lot didn’t as it had about 43,000 views (as of the following morning) which could last mere seconds or the one hour and 12 minutes the video lasts, cannot nee officially determined.

After a hiatus which saw him away from the public eye since his last appearance Aug. 9 until his Sept. 1 Facebook Q and A with Albertans, he had been gone as had beleaguered health minister Tyler Shandro and Chief Medical Health Officer Deena Hinshaw, who has been speculated to be resigning. 

Kenney discussed what he wanted to talk about and did get questions from the public and answered them reasonably smoothly. 


Of course there will be the haters of the media who will criticize and say why hasn’t the media been pressuring him about the 4th wave of Covid; why doesn’t the media ask him about A, B or C.

Only speaking as someone on this side of the media it’s all about availability. Who does the premier talk to, ie.e provincial legislature reporters etc. Gone are the days when politicians are made available on an open basis to media. Getting interviews with certain ministers is proving to be difficult (hello Adriana Lagrange) while others it is easier. Random provincial employees other than seemingly those doctors who are so outraged with the handling of the pandemic or terrified of what is actually happening or could/probably will happen, the civil services often won’t talk to you either. 

Why? All about controlling the message. A self filter if you will. If you have no one critical to ask questions, only “puffball” questions will be asked. 

Seen stories done during the 2019 election where Justin Trudeau in a staged town hall was surrounded by Liberal Party supporters in the crowd. 

It happens all the time in open line radio shows where “callers” have certain biases that political organizations want featured or publicized. 

With social media it is a lot easier for political figures to have a layer of invincibility a political cone of silence if you will. 

Take for instance the Facebook Question and Answer session — unless you follow Kenney on Facebook, chance are you didn’t know about it. Even then, when the questions started coming, Kenney was reading them from the screen, undoubtedly picking and choosing the ones he was comfortable answering. 

Even if there was an initial harder question, Kenney could say whatever he wanted with no opportunity with a follow up or clarification question. 

Now for those who automatically hate media, believe all stories reported in the news are lies or “fake news” (thanks Donald Trump)… will say this is all sour grapes and that the media are to blame for the lack of connection. 

Media traditionally are representatives of the public so the job is to report back what was said so the public as individuals didn’t have to do that. 

With the pandemic, many events, communication opprtunities, meetings etc. were forced to go virtual much faster than probably initially expected. This has given politicians the opportunity to not have to be as accountable with media as once was.

One could say that the movie The Wizard of Oz was far ahead of its time with how the Wizard who spoke grandiose and was respected. However, when the curtain was drawn back, it was discovered that he was small, feeble minded and not the intellectual grand wizard that he made himself out to be.

What politicians are doing by controlling the message is obviously showing themselves in a positive light but maybe from a more controlled aspect.

Back in 1964, Canadian communications theorist Marshal McLuhan had wrote in his book called Understanding Media: “the medium is the message.” According to dictionary.com, this theory states: “that the form of a message (print, visual, musical, etc.) determines the ways in which that message will be perceived. McLuhan argued that modern electronic communications (including radio, television, films, and computers) would have far-reaching sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical consequences, to the point of actually altering the ways in which we experience the world.”

He couldn’t have been more correct, even 57 years later. 

Ryan Dahlman is the managing editor of Prairie Post West and Prairie Post East

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