Should Mayor Jim Watson be able to block Ottawa residents on Twitter – given that his own taxpayer-paid staff sometime operate the account?
It’s an interesting question. And it’s the same one I asked on this blog back in August. And until I started asking questions this summer, the mayor’s Twitter icon was on his city of Ottawa website. How much more proof do you need? Wonder if I can get my personal Twitter handle on that website?
This week, Watson was served with a lawsuit by three local citizens who’ve all been blocked by Watson. They’re suing him, arguing he’s violating their charter rights. And while there are just three names on the suit, the trio is part of what seems to be pretty big group, judging by the number of people complaining about it on Twitter.
Having covered Watson since our days at Carleton University in the early 80s, this just never used to be his style. But sadly, it seems Watson is increasingly digging in his heels on many issues for no good reason, refusing to consider anything other than the line he’s decided to stand on. And this stance is clearly just ridiculous, even for a mayor who now seems to care more about being perceived as being right, rather than actually doing the right thing.
Back in the summer, city clerk Rick O’Connor told On the City, From the Burbs that city staff were 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. The last time I checked in with him, there was no new update. At the time, he said he didn’t know Watson sometimes used city staff to update his Twitter account.
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.”
And the mayor’s penchant for blocking people who tweet him too frequently or simply oppose his positions – has some Ottawa residents crying foul. He uses the site to update the public on council proceedings, on his whereabouts – and views of interest to the citizens of Ottawa.
It was Ottawa resident Philippe Denault,just one of those who was blocked by Watson, who prompted me to write the blog.
Denault is part of SOS Vanier, which fought 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. 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.
Look, I don’t think Watson or anyone else should put up with abusive language.
But a difference of opinion, why is Watson now so thin-skinned?
I blocked someone today, an annoying guy who appears to just want to tell me what a bad person I am. But I don’t represent him – and he doesn’t help pay for my salary.
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’s just wrong for a politician to prevent their detractors from speaking out. And even worse, to silence the very people you represent and pay for your right to be there.