• Ah, October. Rainy days, autumn colors, cozy sweaters and fireplaces, and every four years, a plethora of election signs. Offline and online, local politicians are working hard to get their platforms out to voters.

    The sudden appearance of signs at the roadside and candidates at events rarely attended previously, mailboxes stuffed with brochures and flyers – all this tells us the race for city council and school board is on.

    Offline and online, local politicians are working hard to get their platforms out to voters.

    As a keen observer of the digital space, I am always interested in seeing how candidates choose to use social media and the Internet as part of their campaign practice.

    Even more interesting to me is the way that citizens engage online in regard to the issues that matter to them.

    The great hope of the Internet, and social media, in particular, was that it could provide an accessible platform to communicate and engage in meaningful dialogue across time and space.

    At election time, I am reminded, more than ever, that we have a long way to go to fulfill that promise.

    Sadly, much of what I see when I scroll newsfeeds is angry, disrespectful, and ill-informed diatribe disguised as free speech.

    Candidates deserve our respect, if only because they have the courage to stand for public office.

    The least we can do, as good citizens, is to engage with them in a proactive and positive way.

    Online Facebook groups or other digital spaces that invite community dialogue should have terms and guidelines that govern acceptable online behaviours.

    Such groups, well-moderated, can offer an excellent platform for discussion.

    Group administrators and members should take the time to investigate and understand key issues.

    The campaign period provides us with an opportunity to get to know those who are running, to find out where they stand on issues and to ask substantive questions.

    Clear, precise questions allow participants to respond in a concrete way. Vague, leading, or misleading questions only add to confusion and obfuscate the issues.

    Good citizens are engaged and informed. The same is true for good digital citizens.

    We may not agree with a specific candidate’s perspective, or with their supporters, but we can disagree without being disagreeable.

    Sharing your point of view and listening to the perspectives of others can help generate further insight into issues and can often lead to the discovery of common ground or shared values. The rule of civil discourse is to enhance understanding, not to make the other wrong.

    Election time gives us an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the common challenges that we face as a community, and to decide who we want to lead the way to find solutions.

    We can take advantage of the process by offering thoughtful, balanced opinions or we can squander it by resorting to personal attacks, sarcasm, and negative bias.

    We do need to air disparate views. It is the way we learn and become more educated as a populace.

    But, please park the anger. There are big problems to be solved, and thoughtful citizens who are willing to make a commitment to solve them should be encouraged, not demeaned.

    Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article first appeared in the Maple Ridge News.