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A questionable online past doesn’t have to mean the end for political hopefuls

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From old Facebook posts and blogs to Twitter flame wars, some politicians are finding that their online histories are coming back to haunt them.

It may be common knowledge now that anything posted online stays online. But that wasn’t the case a decade ago.

Joseph Lavoie, with public strategy and communications firm Navigator, says when it comes to having a damaging online history, this generation of politicians are ‘the awkward generation.’

‘The people experiencing this now started using social media before they ever thought there could be long term consequences to whatever they post online,’ he explained.

Last week Toronto-Centre MP hopeful Julian DiBattista apologized for a blog he wrote in 2005 that contained several controversial comments.

‘I regret the comments that I’ve made, as many as ten years ago and for these I apologize,’ DiBattista said in a statement to CityNews. ‘During this time, as a gay teenager and someone who was struggling, I felt an overwhelming pressure and made incorrect statements to mask the confusion I was feeling. I did this in order to present an image of myself that I felt was expected of a straight man.’

On Monday a Nova Scotia NDP candidate resigned after comments he allegedly made in a Facebook discussion emerged on a Conservative website.

On the post, which has since been deleted, Morgan Wheeldon allegedly said that ‘one could argue that Israel’s intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region.’

In May, Deborah Drever was suspended from the Alberta NDP caucus after a series of social media gaffes — including questionable photos posted on her Facebook page and a heavy metal band album cover she posed for which critics said promoted sexual violence.

Lavoie suggests anyone entering politics should do a little research on themselves to see what could be found by both media and the opposition.

‘I would probably spend hours on myself Googling down to the deepest nooks and crannies that are on the web to see what I can find and then taking whatever appropriate measures I’d need to to fix that,’ he said.’ Obviously if you have a huge problem on your hands then you may have to outsource to a professional outlet to help you.’

Scrubbing yourself off the grid may seem impossible but it can be done, Lavoie said.

Toronto-Centre Conservative candidate Julian DiBattista in a 2005 photo from his now deleted blog.

However, he added that a little practicality should be taken.

‘It can be tough but at the same time you just have to be practical about it. Most users conducting online searches don’t get past the first page. So that’s why often the first priority is page one ranks.’

And sometimes those questionable past posts can work to a candidate’s advantage.

‘It can show how real of a human that candidate is. We often complain these days that our candidate is too scripted or fake or not human enough. Well this could lend to their authenticity and maybe there will be a certain craving for that too,’ Lavoie explained.

It may be a bumpy road for many of these 20-something politicians, but Lavoie says the next-generation should have a leg up.

‘I think the younger crowd — the next generation of politicians — will be savvy enough to know that using social media comes with a lot of inherent risk,’ he explained. ‘They will be smarter because they will have lived and breathed having their entire lives potentially available online from a young age.’

He added that time often brings a change in attitude.

‘I think it will increasingly become less of a variable for those seeking public office — unless of course it’s something egregious,’ Lavoie explained. ‘But just standard kids being kids, teenagers being teenagers, I think there will be more forgiveness for.’

In his final thoughts to politicians of the future, Lavoie chuckled and said ‘Just don’t get yourself in trouble in the first place, you can save yourself a lot of tears before bedtime.’