#Prenticeblamesalbertans: How a hashtag started the PC death spiral

Three hours after Jim Prentice’s March 4th appearance on a CBC radio call-in show, #prenticeblamesalbertans was trending on Twitter.

During the hashtag-inciting radio interview the PC Premier remarked that Albertans, “need only look in the mirror” to find who is to blame for the province’s financial situation. “Basically, all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs," he added.

The comments led to active resentment amongst Albertans dealing with years of cuts to education, healthcare and other government services, and ultimately made way for the Alberta NDP to make historic electoral gains.


Here's why we think it worked so well:

1. Framing (and timely pick-up of said framing)
Public anger and ensuing electoral actions weren’t mobilized by Prentice’s simple act of trying to arrogantly mansplain Alberta's financial woes on the radio. It was social media that both helped frame the comments as a PC abdication of responsibility, and successfully circulated this framing until it became part of the political vocabulary in Alberta. 

Repetition of Prentice’s remarks in mainstream media reporting (CTV, Global, The Edmonton Journal, etc) not only cemented the blame game narrative, it reinforced the hashtag use as a politicized act by Albertans that reflected a major decline in PC approval.

The language of Prentice blaming Albertans was then quickly adopted by opposition parties. Both the Alberta NDP and the Wildrose issued statements the day after the interview. The Wildrose even drove the message home by using a smiling, finger-pointing photo of Prentice as the banner image that accompanied the statement online.

Statement from Heather Forsyth (Wildrose), Mar. 5, 2015     

Statement from Rachel Notley (NDP), Mar. 5, 2015                                              

2. It was fun, and invited creative participation
Hashtags can be simple ways to track content about a particular subject. Have something to say about Alberta politics? Use #abpoli. Want to see what people are tweeting about Canadian labour issues and union news? Search #canlab.

But the power of the hashtag is best used as an invitation for creative social participation online. #Prenticeblamesalbertans is a perfect example of an engaging hashtag.

People across Alberta (and Canada) used the hashtag to actively mock the Progressive Conservatives by tweeting what they felt were equally absurd things to pin on Albertans. Because the hashtag was part of a cheeky twitter activity -- rather than just a passive cataloguing of tweets about a certain topic -- #prenticeblamesalbertans had legs it would not have otherwise had.

prenticeblamesalbertanscoffee

3. It Was Initiated by a Social Media Influencer
#Prenticeblamesalbertans was also an example of the power of a social media ‘influencer’ leveraging their following to drive a political conversation. 

Social media saavvy Alberta author Marty Chan used his Twitter following of over 6,000 people to draw attention to what he viewed as a "profoundly insulting" comment by Prentice. Despite the Premier’s insistence the day after the radio interview that he "never said Albertans are the problem,” the framing stuck and the hashtag thrived.