Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is being sued for blocking Twitter users from his Twitter account. News reports I’ve read indicate the three complainants believe they have been denied their freedom of expression and access to important and timely information such as tweets the mayor issued following the recent tornadoes.
I believe the complainants have it wrong. Here’s why.
- Public tweets are visible to all members of the public. If you are blocked from a Twitter account, you can read public tweets issued from that account by simply logging out of your own Twitter account. It’s also worth noting that tweets issued by the Mayor are typically referenced in “fresh content” issued by journalists (posts to social media platforms, online and print media articles, radio and television reports) and other Twitter users (posts to social media platforms and blogs).
- The Mayor’s Twitter account is a personal Twitter account, not an official account of a public office. It is my understanding that if the Mayor’s Twitter account was an official account, election laws would prohibit him from using it as part of an election campaign. This, alone, should make it clear his is the Twitter account of an individual and politician, not an office—no matter at what times of day it is used.
- The complainants’ freedom of expression has not been denied. While the complainants have been denied the ability to tag the Mayor’s Twitter account in their tweets, they are still, arguably, able to use the Mayor’s name and associated hashtags in their Tweets, email the Mayor, phone the Mayor, send written correspondence to the Mayor, and publish their thoughts and concerns about the Mayor over a variety of media and social media. Realistically, the complainants have only been denied the ability to tag the Mayor’s Twitter account in their own tweets.
- People get to set their own boundaries, particularly on social media. If someone repeatedly showed up at the Mayor’s office to call out pointed political statements at him, it’s likely security would prevent that individual from accessing the Mayor’s office. The same would be true if they did so at Council Chambers (official) or the Mayor’s home (personal). Like everyone, the Mayor should have some say in who he gets to see in his Twitter stream, and the freedom to choose whether to mute or block them for his own reasons. This shouldn’t be the thing of scandals.
- Inappropriate use of court resources. There are many reasons to put pressure on the court system to address political differences, particularly if the complainants are being denied fundamental rights. Being blocked by another Twitter user seems an extraordinarily frivolous reason.
A colleague suggested to me that the real reason the complainants are pursuing this action is because being blocked by the Mayor’s Twitter account denies their tweets the opportunity to be seen by the Mayor’s 133K followers. Whatever the reason, it is clear to me that the people pursuing this lawsuit do not fully understand how Twitter works, and that Twitter is a social medium.
Hat tip to two David Law for “entwitlement.”