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Jack Layton online? Maybe not.

This Magazine Staff

Jack Layton’s online games.
In the September/ October issue of This Magazine, two writers commented on presidential nominee Barack Obama‘s insurmountable online presence (see Chandler Levack and Jordan Heath-Rawlings‘ takes on Web Obama) and though the success of his web campaign has been undeniable, it seems that our Canadian party leaders have been hesitant to follow suit. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton has at least made a meager effort.
Similar to Obama’s, a politically charged social networking site that unites democratic followers, Camp Layton has The Orange Room, which allows users to gather and upload media (videos, pictures, news, etc.) to the site. There’s even an orange-tinted video of Layton welcoming users to the site, and the clever Rapid Response team that asks users to help debunk smear campaigns against the NDP.
While I like the photo caption contests and the colour is a bit more cheerful than Obama’s site, The Orange Room’s usefulness doesn’t even come close. The Orange Room is clearly an attempt to appeal to the younger voter, and it’s clear Layton doesn’t really know what the younger voter wants in his or her online experience.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Youth want to be able to publicly rant and eviscerate political candidates online through the safety net of an online handle. They want to get into heated debates about politics and policy without having to change out of their pajamas. More than that, they want a personal experience with cyberspace. The Orange Room doesn’t even have a function that would allow users to comment on each other’s videos, let alone forum or blog capabilities. Who are you trying to fool, Jack Layton?

One of the reasons Obama has been so successful is that he has managed to make youth feel like he cares about them. My U.S. election newsletters don’t come from American Democrats–they come from Barack Obama himself (and occasionally Joe Biden and Michelle Obama). My NDP email newsletters come from Canada’s New Democrats.
Like I posted earlier about Elizabeth May, I’ve got to give any candidate props for at least trying to appeal to the young adult voting market, but they have got to do a lot better than this. The twentysomethings are an unswervingly apathetic bunch. Of my young cohorts, I’d say they fall into three categories:
They don’t know anything about politics (and don’t care to) so they don’t vote.
They know a little and are so jaded by unreliable politicians that they don’t vote.
They care and they vote. (These kids are very much the minority.)
Party leaders are going to have to do a lot better than an endorsement by Jason Collett to engage young voters.

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