Pandemic restrictions are causing many Ryerson students to turn to social media as their main source for election information and, according to some, it’s not working.
Although the 2021 election campaign is nearing an end, students at Ryerson still feel left in the dark about the candidates and how to vote.
“I worked all summer. I kind of drifted away from it and now I feel really distant from all the stuff, and I’m kind of worried it’s really easy to sway my opinion a certain way,” said first-year criminology student Aron Thai.
The absence of an on-campus polling station this year — something which would have been advertised, perhaps leading to interest in the campaign — has meant one less way for students to become informed.
“I get information mostly from social media and the internet because I feel like the majority of our generation doesn’t watch news. I feel like the election hasn’t been conveyed that well outside of social media,” Thai said.
According to a 2021 Abacus Data survey, 35 per cent of people aged 16-29 use Facebook and Instagram as a news source, while 42 per cent use news from television.
Search engines are the most popular source, at 47 per cent.
The sudden nature of a snap election, only the seventh in Canadian history, combined with pandemic restrictions, meant Elections Canada faced challenges informing students during this election cycle.
“It was hard to plan, we didn’t know if any students would be on campus in September. We didn’t have a fixed date and a very short amount of time,” Elections Canada spokesperson Nathalie De Montigny said.
When asked why Ryerson students aren’t seeing much information about the election outside of social media, de Montigny said: “I can’t comment on why. We couldn’t have a vote on campus. That initiative did receive a lot of success in other elections. This election was during the pandemic and because it was such a short period of time, the timing made it difficult for us to do the vote on campus.”
Students living away from home — where they might have engaged in election talk with family members — or who have minimal knowledge and interest are embracing social media because it’s easily accessible and the information is sent directly to their screens.
“If you’re someone like me, sort of half haphazardly learning about it as I hear from other people and on social media, I’m not going to go looking for it myself,” said film study student Aiden Rhody. “If it’s not right in front of my face, like a big event, I won’t learn as much about it.”
Many Ryerson students say they have seen very little information about the election in public.
“I just moved to Ontario. I’m actually from New Brunswick, so most of the information I had beforehand was about candidates in New Brunswick, not here in Ontario,” said performance and acting student Emma Suttie. “I feel a lot less educated coming to Toronto and not seeing very much about any of the parties and candidates here. I don’t think it’s been advertised enough.”.
According to de Montigny, Elections Canada’s job is to “provide context on how to vote. It’s up to the candidates to put up a website and advertise.”
While social media is a main source of election information for many students, it isn’t influencing how all students will vote.
“Mostly Instagram, I’ve seen a couple things on Facebook,” said Jada Matthew, a student in the Social Work program. “That’s where I’m seeing the influence more for which direction to vote. Otherwise I’m seeing encouragement to vote. It hasn’t been a big influence on me, no.”
With the lack of motivation and enthusiasm, students voters are content with receiving the majority of their election information from social media.
Students say they haven’t received information about the election process from the university, but would be receptive to any unbiased information the university can compile about the process and candidates.
“I think it would be really helpful because I don’t know how to register or what the process is, even though it’s not my first federal election,” master’s student Emma Pakstas said.
Ryerson hosted an online debate for Toronto Centre candidates on Sept. 1.
Where you can start your research:
For the federal election, each candidate has information about their platform and political party on their party’s official website or their personal website.
How to vote:
Elections Canada provides all information on how to vote, your riding, and election candidates on its website.