Elections Committee Must Redefine Negative Campaigning

The Elections Committee met on Wednesday night after UGBC president and EVP candidates Akosua Achampong and Tt King, both MCAS ’18, filed a formal complaint concerning a video that they believed to be defamatory posted by fellow candidates Raymond Mancini and Matt Batsinelas, both CSOM ’19. The committee decided not to sanction the campaign of Mancini and Batsinelas, stating in an email that the video “is strictly opinionated and does not defame the candidates.”

The video in question was posted on Facebook Monday night, and is likely aimed directly at the Achampong-King campaign. In the video, footage of Mancini from the Elections Committee (EC) debate on Sunday night is paired with a series of statements criticizing Achampong and King. The video accuses Achampong and King of endorsing defamatory comments posted on a Facebook Live stream of the UGBC diversity and inclusion debate last Sunday, and includes screenshots of the comments. Achampong and King received a warning from the EC, and the comments have since been deleted.

One of the comments, posted by Edward Byrne, MCAS ’18, suggested that Mancini has no LGBTQ friends. The video redacted Byrne’s name, but he wrote a letter to the editor to The Heights confirming he wrote the comment. In his letter, Byrne stated that Mancini’s vote against a resolution calling for the University to create an LGBTQ+ resource center indicated to him that the candidate would not support the LGBTQ+ community if elected. Mancini cited a lack of specifics in his reasoning for voting against the proposition.

Although the EC decided not to pursue sanctions against the campaign of Mancini and Batsinelas, it is clear that the video contains language that negatively reflects upon the campaign of Achampong and King. A pair of statements from the video read: “True leaders own up to their mistakes. But it is clear that they don’t.” It is evident from the video that “they” refers to Achampong and King, and such a statement implies that the pair are disingenuous and incapable leaders.

Furthermore, in an email to The Heights, the EC stated that “the video does not qualify as negative campaigning.” Later on in the video, however, Mancini and Batsinelas make a direct attempt to portray Achampong and King in a negative light, evident in their posing of the question “Is that who I want to represent me?” to the student body in reference to their opposing candidates. While it is fair to say that the video is not defamatory, it is certainly negative in nature.

It is unclear why Mancini and Batsinelas did not receive so much as a warning from the EC for their video, but Achampong and King did receive a warning for their uncertain “endorsement” of a couple Facebook comments not even produced by their campaign. In future campaigns, the EC must make an explicit definition as to what constitutes “negative campaigning.”

Following the U.S. presidential election of 2016, which was characterized by a focus on personal attacks between candidates rather than debates centered around the important issues facing the nation, it is a shame to see the current UGBC president and EVP race devolve into a similar situation.

Instead of spending time personally critiquing the character of opponents, candidates should focus on developing potential policies and plans to benefit the student body. Unnecessary distractions such as the video posted by Mancini and Batsinelas take away from the important aspects of the race and represent an attempt to sway the student body on a basis other than personal merit and qualification. Actions such as theirs set a potentially dangerous precedent for future campaigns. If either pair of candidates win the election, they should avoid getting caught up in pointless mudslinging.

In light of the social media mismanagement that has occurred in both campaigns, it is time for the EC to reform its social media policies. The current “Presidential and VP Elections” code of the EC does not explicitly specify guidelines and potential sanctions pertaining to content posted on social media sites such as Facebook other than timing and frequency regulations.

The EC should adopt new and specific protocols that specify what sort of content is appropriate to be posted online, and explicitly list the sanctions associated with violations carried out by campaigns on social media. The addition of these new policies would help to prevent the current state of the race from occurring again, and would help to foster more positive and focused UGBC campaigns in the future.

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