Should Mayor Jim Watson be able to block Ottawa residents on Twitter – given that his own taxpayer -paid staff sometimes operate the account?
It’s an interesting question.
Given a recent ruling from the United States that American President Donald Trump shouldn’t be blocking people, the issue has got a little bit more attention.
Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, a federal judge in New York City, said in her ruling that Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by preventing certain Americans from viewing his tweets on @realDonaldTrump.
The social media platform, Buchwald said, is a “designated public forum” from which Trump cannot exclude individual plaintiffs. She rejected an argument by the Justice Department that the president had a right to block Twitter followers because of his “associational freedoms.”
City clerk Rick O’Connor told On the City, From the Burbs recently that city staff are reviewing the city’s standards around politicians and their Twitter accounts. And he says they’ll be coming up with a policy guiding municipal politicians’ activity on Twitter.
And the mayor’s penchant for blocking people who tweet him too frequently or simply oppose his positions – has some Ottawa residents crying foul.
Philippe Denault is just one of those who’ve been blocked by Watson. And he’s not happy about it.
Hard to blame him.
Denault is a part of SOS Vanier, which is fighting the move by the Salvation Army to set up a new shop.
He said he was never nasty with his tweets, just part of a movement concerned about what some say is a mega-shelter headed to Vanier.
And he doesn’t believe that Watson – who is supposed to be representing the entire city – should block any of the residents who pay his salary.
“On top of that, the mayor uses his account for official purposes and, without any other reason than being criticized by people (who sometimes only retweeted or used his twitter handle), he blocks citizens from reading his statements.
“I feel that, in city politics, there is too much personal stuff going on that is mixed up with official duties,” he wrote to On the City, From the Burbs.
Watson has also blocked Matt Muirhead, a frequent critic of the mayor. Muirhead is now running for councillor in Kanata against Watson buddy David Gourlay.
“As a longstanding advocate for my community, it concerns me when a powerful politician, (as with Mr. Watson), cannot accept challenging criticism, nor debate, in a public forum like Twitter. Blocking me is also equivalent to blocking the community of Kanata North, where I have been president of two community associations, representing the voice of the community, and having spoken truth to power for many years.
“If the mayor chooses to speak on Twitter, or anywhere else, people should be allowed access to speak up on legitimate issues of concern. Canada is a society that prides itself on free speech, and government leaders should remain accountable and accessible. Cherry-picking support for council candidates on Twitter, or re-tweeting only words of effusive support, are not the ideal of a democratically elected official. Mr. Watson blocking me (or anyone), from communication, who air thoughtful concerns about the mayor’s decision-making, or other concerns, is troubling.
A government leader stifling debate and criticism (including me, as a candidate for city council) befit an entirely different society altogether—not ours,” Muirhead said.
As Denault pointed out, Watson recently took down his Twitter icon off his city of Ottawa run webpage – perhaps in response to questions by Denault and I.
But other city councillors, like Bay Coun. Mark Taylor, still have the link on their city page.
Taylor told this blog he has, very infrequently, blocked followers – but never simply because of a disagreement over policy.
“All blocked for repetitive abusive tweeting. I don’t block for difference of opinion. I block people who swear and at me and question my character, repeatedly mind you, not just once,” he wrote.
And yes, he does sometimes have his staff do tweeting on hs behalf.
Have to admit, as much as I think Watson should be there on Twitter for all residents – agree with Taylor’s philosophy.
Watson blocks people simply because they clog his feed or disagree with him.
But I don’t think Taylor – on anyone else for that matter – need to put up with abusive language.
I don’t think we should expect Taylor or his staff to put up with abusive lanuage over the phone, and nor should he have to take it through Twitter.
And while I don’t represent a constitueny, that has been my stance as well.
People have said some horrendous things to me. And I’m simply not going to have that kind of language on my feed.
But Watson appears hell bent on blocking opposition. In his perfect world, unanimity rules when he’s at the helm.
It’s only fair to allow someone, even a politician, to block whomever they wish on Twitter if they feel that they’re being threatened or harrased. But elected politicians represent all of their constituents, not only those who voted for them, and it seems inappropriate for a politician to prevent their detractors from speaking out. This problem is magnified when blocking is used to silence members of the press, who by their very profession must often speak critically towards elected officials. Politicians of all stripes commonly do this, Donald Trump is only the most well-known example.
Just one such example in Watson’s case:
After I tweeted a series of tweets critical of Watson’s conduct during council the mayor unfollowed me. Seemed entirely childish. I responded in much the same way – by blocking our good mayor!