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<nettime> Canadian gov't Seal Hunt info-wars on comment threads
Flick Harrison on Tue, 12 Oct 2010 07:12:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Canadian gov't Seal Hunt info-wars on comment threads

There has been much discussion in Canada about the Harper Conservatives and their strategy of controlling every communication between government and the media: illegally interfering with Access to Information requests, vetting by political staff of even the most obscure and inconsequential info requests like scientific findings about floods from 13,000 years ago.

Harper has also taken the step of leaving cabinet meetings and the House of Commons via side exits etc to escape the scrum of reporters, and their traditional opportunity to ask tough questions of the PM.  He has instituted a white-house-style speaker's list in the Parliamentary Press Gallery in order to take control of which media outlets may ask questions.

Harper demands pages of documentation and planning for even the most minor of government rollouts (Media Event Proposals, see http://www.hilltimes.com/page/view/control-04-26-2010 OR http://tinyurl.com/2cpolba  ), and forces civil servants to spend thousands of man-hours documenting the placement, size, and maintenance of signage promoting his government's Economic Action Plan (Canada's anti-recession stimulus spending program - see 


http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2010/09/06/conservatives-sign-count.html   ).

The internet strategy below may be a logical step in the evolution of government communications; but in a regime in which even the minutiae of press events are scrutinized by the centralized PMO, you can be sure this has not only the Harper stamp of approval, but that the message is painstakingly crafted by his office.

from  http://tinyurl.com/25rbq3v

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

New documents shed light on government's online battle with seal hunt opponents

By: Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Posted: 11/10/2010 9:04 AM | Comments: 2

They knew they were going into hostile territory, and it appears they didn't sway many minds, but federal employees are feeling pretty good about going head-to-head with critics of the seal hunt in online forums, Twitter tweets and the blog of a teenage girl.

The pilot project, which ran last spring, could lead to more cases in which bureaucrats rebut government critics on websites big and small.

"The project was successful in that we tested, refined our processes and executed rapid response during the pilot," Claude Rochon,  spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, wrote in an email.

"Discussions about pilot findings and next steps are taking place within DFAIT and across government."

Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, longtime critics of the seal hunt, show government employees posted on sites such as Vegansaurus, as well as small personal blogs, and also responded to Twitter messages.

A Toronto-based company called Social Media Group was hired for $75,000 to monitor online chatter about the seal hunt and help the government correct what it perceived as misinformation ? suggestions that seals are an endangered species, for example, or that sealers are allowed to kill newborn white-coat pups.

When one of the authors on Vegansaurus, a San-Francisco-based food website, called the seal hunt a genocide that threatened to decimate the herd, the government wrote back.

"Hi. My name is Martha and I'm an employee of the Government of Canada working on the seal file. While some may not agree with the harvest itself, it is worth noting that the seal population is healthy and abundant. The Northwest Atlantic harp seal population is currently estimated at 6.9 million animals ? more than triple the size of the herd in the 1970s."

Martha McLean is deputy director of eCommunications in the Foreign Affairs Department. She also posted links to a government fact sheet about the seal hunt, but was met with a cool response.

"Great idea, Canada! Send an employee to try to justify seal slaughter ? oh pardon me, 'harvest' ? to a bunch of vegans on a vegan website," wrote a poster named theolivia.

When a teenage girl in West Virginia wrote on her blog called gogreenveggiegirl that baby seals are killed for their white coats, another department employee named Elisa Kaltcheva responded by pointing out that the killing of white-coat seals has been illegal since 1987.

And when a Twitter user named Bernoid alluded to a "kill quota for baby seals," an official in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans suggested the government respond by pointing out the ban on killing white coats.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was pleased to see that government officials have been upfront about their identities when they posted comments. But the group feels the government is in spin mode by posting links to government fact sheets instead of to independent scientific studies.

"They're not using the best available information. They're just sticking to their talking points, so I think it is just another propaganda machine," said Sheryl Fink, director of the fund's seal hunt campaign.

The documents obtained by the fund show that bureaucrats considered some online chatter too inflammatory to respond to. At one online news site in the United States, people for and against the hunt were in a lengthy argument over whether seals were being skinned alive. The government decided to stay out of the debate, deeming the conversation "already heated and unreceptive."

So far, the government's movement into the world of online debate has been somewhat tentative. Representatives have been posting single replies using a form-letter style of writing ? almost like a letter to the editor of a newspaper.

But because online commentary can quickly become a back-and-forth argument, the government has to consider how far down the  debate path it wants to go.

"I'm interested to discover how this pilot can help us articulate this (seal hunt) issue and to suggest ways for the (government of Canada) to move toward more of a dialogue-like engagement ? sometime down the road," Barry Nesbitt, another department eCommunications employee, wrote in an April 1 email to colleagues.

"My sense from today is that we have to find ways to identify individuals who want to discover content that exists outside their particular point of view/echo chamber of comfort. Then both parties have to determine to what extent we can have a real discussion  with the hope that others will be drawn to the conversation."



* FLICK's WEBSITE & BLOG: http://www.flickharrison.com 

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