The Student Government (SG) Elections and Rules Committee (E&R) met last Tuesday to discuss the monetary value of social media exposure in the Executive Slate campaign process.
This investigatory meeting was called to determine if the expenditure limit had been surpassed by the candidates on this year’s United Progress (UP) Slate, who are using a Facebook page created by a past year’s UP candidates. Opposing candidates from the Our Campus (OC) Slate initiated the meeting, but an official complaint has not been filed.
After deliberating in private, E&R unanimously determined that UP was operating within the expenditure limit.
E&R works to create a balanced campaign race for SG candidates. In order to create a level playing field, slates are only allowed to spend up to $200 on campaigning. This meeting was largely concerned with determining what constitutes spending in the campaign process. The committee also discussed whether or not slates should be allowed to reuse their social media outlets, including Facebook pages, from year to year, which could lend an unfair advantage to established or incumbent parties.
Second-year Max Freedman, chairman of E&R, presided over the meeting, which was attended by members of both the UP and the OC slates. Third-year OC candidates Paul Drexler and Chase Woods were present at the meeting, as well as third-year Alex DiLalla, who is helping them with the campaign.
“We wonder whether any other group on campus would have had an equal access to 500 plus likes on a Facebook page coming in the race,” DiLalla said. Our Campus was involved in initiating the investigation process and valued United Progress’ spending at about $1500.
“The question is whether a financial value could or should be ascribed to the digital campaign assets that UP is using again from last year’s election, namely whether there is any monetary value to likes on a Facebook page and/or any layout work done to the website’s formatting last year,” Freedman said.
Assigning monetary value to Facebook likes has been a topic of discussion for years in the marketing industry, and there has been no widespread agreement among professionals. Cody Jones, UP’s vice president for student affairs candidate, spoke in response on behalf of his slate. “We are unclear as to how likes can be monetized without purchasing some kind of third party service to generate likes,” Jones said. The reuse of Facebook pages from year to year also brings up issues, since it gives candidates access to an established fan base. The Moose Party was referenced throughout the meeting as an example of a long-standing slate that has reused its Facebook page in the past.
Fourth-year Tyler Kissinger, incumbent SG president, weighed in as well: “Last year, when I was running, I reused the same Facebook page... and there was no issue,” Kissinger said.
The committee also addressed the financial value of in-kind donations to slate campaigns. Seeing as some students may have greater access to certain services, it may be unfair to allow these services to be used in the campaign process. This includes campaign donations from friends and family. The committee was particularly concerned with web editing and photography assistance.
“If, within the student body, you would normally find people capable of doing such things, and you wouldn’t need to look outside the student body… then it’s not something that counts to the expenditure limit, as long as it is not physical materials, and merely intellectual property,” E&R member and law school student Josh Savitt said.
The meeting was adjourned for the E&R to discuss the matter further in private. E&R then issued an advisory opinion stating that UP was operating within the expenditure limit, since the items discussed in the meeting was either accounted for in their expenditure reports (graphic design), reasonably available for free within the student body (website design services), or impossible to assign value to (Facebook likes).