Conservative MP Larry Miller doesn’t tweet. I met him a few years ago at an event on The Hill. I was among a group of MPs including Mr. Miller, James Bezan, Rodger Cuzner and Wayne Easter. It was the day before the long gun registry vote and Mr. Bezan joked Mr. Cuzner was looking a little under the weather and perhaps should take the next day off.
The conversation turned to social media. Mr. Bezan had gained some media attention that summer for his anti-long gun registry video (dubbed “The Woody Video” since it featured him on his horse named Woody). As far as digital content is concerned, I thought his video was great. It was amateur and a little cheeky yet delivered a message that poked at Michael Ignatieff and wasn’t too self-righteous. It fit nicely within digital culture. Still, reports suggest the PMO wasn’t crazy about the video and ordered it taken down.
IT’S NOT TWITTER. IT’S YOU.
There were two reasons offered for why Mr. Miller doesn’t tweet. The fun one is that he has the hands of a farmer and it would be difficult for his thumbs to hit just one key on a Blackberry keyboard. The real reason was given to him during a communication training session offered to MPs. They were told by the trainer that Twitter (in fact all social media) is just a way for MPs to get themselves into trouble.
It’s true social media have allowed MPs to more quickly embarrass themselves. Examples include (but are not limited to):
- Ujjal Dosanjh tweeted about an in camera session and was compelled to apologize in the House of Commons on a point of order — for violating both the rules of committee and the trust of his peers.
- Lisa Raitt made her Twitter account private after gaining notoriety for passing time in Question Period critiquing the fashion sense of MPs opposite (“M. Bachand’s tie is a little askew today”).
- Pat Martin ruffled feathers for dropping the F-bomb in a tweet when expressing his anger over Conservative tactics in the House of Commons.
- Even Tony Clement, the social media rock star of Canadian politics, found himself in stormy seas for criticizing a teen on Twitter.
Of course, this post was inspired by yesterday’s dust up between Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau.
Clearly there are examples of politicians getting themselves into trouble over Twitter. I suggest that based on overall numbers of Tweets and positive experiences (even neutral ones), these examples represent a statistically insignificant occurrence. Statistical significance and conduct/public significance are not mutually exclusive.
Canadian MPs issued over 45,000 tweets between January 1 and June 26, 2012.
How many problematic tweets actually landed in the news?
Twitter is one of many platforms over which politicians can get themselves into trouble. It doesn’t hold the monopoly on embarrassing situations (though it does its part to help amplify them). Twitter didn’t exist during the sponsorship scandal and Helena Geurgis didn’t harness the power of Twitter during her tirade at the airport in Charlottetown. Pierre Trudeau’s infamous Liberal Salute and “fuddle duddle” predate the public Internet.
And Jason Kenney learned the hard way that email can be just as much a problem as any other interaction involving a blunt criticism.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s brown envelopes, face-to-face interactions, in-person statements (or gestures) or comments made over social media; Never say or do anything you wouldn’t want noticed by anyone.