Wanted: sealing guru

Canada’s Olympic mascots are meant to be cute and cuddly, but visit one anti-sealing website and you’ll see Quatchi angrily wielding a club and blood dripping from Miga’s snarling jaws.

PETA’s anti-sealing website features Canada’s Olympic mascots.

PETA’s anti-sealing website features Canada’s Olympic mascots.

OTTAWA — Canada’s Olympic mascots are meant to be cute and cuddly, but visit one anti-sealing website and you’ll see Quatchi angrily wielding a club and blood dripping from Miga’s snarling jaws.

The federal government is getting antsy about the beating it’s taking on sites such as www.olympicshame2010.com, run by animal-rights group PETA.

It is looking for its own social media guru to protect its reputation.

Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs posted a $75,000 contract for a “Social Media Reputation and Online Issues Management” adviser on the seal hunt.

The winning applicant would analyze YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other sites, and examine what techniques anti-seal hunt groups use to maximize their profile on Internet search engines.

On Facebook alone, a search of the terms “seal hunt” comes up with more than 500 hits, some of them groups with thousands of members with titles such as “Stop the Canadian Seal Hunt.”

Pictures or links to YouTube feature footage of seals being clubbed or their bloody corpses in the snow.

The department would like to “gauge the nature of discussions, the positive to negative percentage of dialogue and be positioned, if possible, to correct misinformation,” says the description.

The request for bids specifically mentions how “anti-sealing groups plan to leverage the visibility of the 2010 Winter Games.”

“The project goal is to allow the government to provide additional information including: correcting false information and dispelling myths about the Canadian the seal hunt,” said Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Simone MacAndrew.

Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said she’s unconvinced the federal government will have much luck if it tries to insert itself into the digital dialogue.

“Facebook and Twitter, those things really are grassroots, and generally when a government or corporation tries to play that game they haven’t been very successful because people see it for what it is, which is communications propaganda,” said Fink.

But Andres Restrepo of Montreal’s Ressac Media says organizations concerned about their reputations ignore the “game changing” social media phenomenon at their peril.

They must monitor what’s out there, figure out whether it’s having a significant impact, and then respond quickly at the source before letting a negative discussion snowball into a public relations disaster, he said.

“There is a lot of content online that is commented on, reviewed and shared, so average people become editors of what’s going to become important on the media scene,” said Restrepo.

“With the seal hunt, the whole conversation, the point of view that is most exposed, is of those who are against the seal hunt … so the goal of the government with that contract is to win more of the market share of the conversation so we have another point of view.”