Norm Kelly speaks with students about social media. KASSANDRA NERANJAN.

Drake may not have come to campus this year, but his Twitter-famous city councillor buddy Norm Kelly paid U of T a visit last week. Councillor Kelly made an appearance as part of Social Media and the City, the first event in the Arts & Science Students’ Union’s (ASSU) City Series, three events designed to explore what makes Toronto unique, and how to make it better.

Students gathered at New College’s William Doo Auditorium, where they talked social media, pop culture, and politics with journalist and event moderator Shawn Micallef. Micallef opened the discussion by describing Kelly’s stint as the deputy mayor of Toronto as a “calm presence in the city, who would later embrace Twitter.” Kelly gained a large Twitter following after he came out in support of Drake in his feud with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.

According to Kelly, his activity on Twitter began out of curiosity, with no plans to use it as an extension of his political life. “I just simply wanted to have fun. That was it,” he claimed.

Discussion of the ways in which a politician could use social media dominated the event. There is an “entrepreneurial drive out there [in social media] waiting to be released in opportunities,” said Kelly. “I think Toronto is beginning to situate itself to compete internationally for skilled people and investment money. We have the essential mass of creative young people in the city that carries us forward.”

“A lot of conversations about the city now take place on Twitter. Journalists, politicians, writers and ordinary citizens all engage in these conversations,” said Abdullah Shihipar, ASSU president. “We hope the U of T community gets a better appreciation of the issues that face our city, what we have accomplished and the challenges we face [through the City Series].  How so much happens takes place around us in the place where we live, that we may be oblivious to.”

While there were questions about Drake and the 6ix, students also grilled Kelly about his job as a councillor. When asked about his stance on ranked ballots, Kelly emphasized that he does not support ranked ballots as a voting system.

Students also used the event as a platform to air concerns about the gentrification of Toronto. One audience member brought up the racial and socio-economic divide that has plagued Toronto over the past three decades, as noted in U of T professor J. David Hulchanski’s Three Cities report, which looked at income inequality in Toronto from 1970 to 2005. “Toronto has always been a city of immigrants,” said Kelly, adding that, “the research shows that the longer you stay, and the longer you’re here, the more your income goes up.”

Toronto may have ambitions to become more of a creative city by using social media, but there are issues that surround citizens who identify in minority groups that still need addressing. How social media can bridge those experiences to help Toronto become a sustainably equitable city was the question to which many audience members left the event without an answer.

 Norm Kelly’s tips for Twitter

Stir the pot — get a reaction

Write tweets that tickles the spot — be humorous!

Inform — use Twitter for an educational purpose

Know your audience — consider who is going to listen to you, and who will be impacted

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