Commentary

Politicians Blocking Engaged Citizens on Social Media is Still Censorship

While the medium may have changed, the intent has not. The landscape of time is riddled with the efforts of the few trying to block the freedom of the many.

By Maureen Wilson
Published October 06, 2017

Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale has been the only journalist to fact check United States President Donald Trump on a daily basis since the Liar-in-Chief announced his run for the Republican Party nomination.

Dale's due diligence and accuracy eventually earned him praise, professional and otherwise, that he deserved. His columns became the go-to resource for other media organizations.

As you may know, Dale was recently blocked from Trump's twitter feed. The voices of reason state clearly that blocking the free press from seeing the President's tweets is akin to barring the journalist from a news conference.

A Toronto Star editorial makes the point that this practice is not an isolated one and that it happens in Canada too.

Look no further than Hamilton. What we are witnessing should concern us all because, while the medium may have changed, the intent has not. The landscape of time is riddled with the efforts of the few trying to block the freedom of the many.

Access to Information is the key to freedom, which makes it the key to democracy. A civil society and a healthy community depend on our ability to talk with each other, civilly, so that we can find the grounds of shared values while learning to respect the points of difference.

To this point, Hamilton City Councillors Judi Partridge (Waterdown) and Terry Whitehead (West Mountain) have made liberal use of blocking to prevent constituents from accessing their publicly-funded social media platforms.

Blocked from Councillor Judi Partridge's twitter feed
Blocked from Councillor Judi Partridge's twitter feed

Moreover, Councillor Whitehead has moved to strike much of his archive of twitter posts, a great many of them combative and controversial, from the public record. Also erased from his publicly-funded account is a pattern of insulting constituents, many of who have challenged his fact claims.

All this happened without the bat of an eye from our Integrity Commissioner, the Head of Council or the Councillors' elected colleagues.

Ironically, our traditional news sources, including the Hamilton Spectator, have also been silent on this practice. They have ignored the curtailment of free speech, efforts to cut off access to public information and the need to protect and preserve the public record for reasons of transparency and accountability.

The fact that these serious transgressions are taking place on social media is a distinction without a difference and the Spectator must know this, otherwise they wouldn't have their own policies guiding the newspaper's social media activity, content and access.

This effort to erase the public record and deny access to information came to a head during the light rail transit (LRT) debate. After Councillor Partridge published an opinion article riddled with factual inaccuracies on why she could no longer support LRT, a local citizen sought to offer the Councillor and her constituents access to the facts. She blocked him, and in so doing, she blocked her constituents access to these facts.

And for the public record and in the interest of full disclosure, she has also blocked me, as has Councillor Whitehead.

I've never used profanity on my social media platform. However, I have challenged the accuracy and have sought clarity on the policy positions taken by these members of council - as I should, for that is both my duty and my right as citizen in a democracy.

Whether you are for or against LRT is not the point. This time it was LRT, but without any consequences, tomorrow it will be something else.

In our ever-changing, technologically-charged world, there are some things that do not change. There will always be interests that do not act in the public interest. We must do all we can to protect and preserve our democratic principles and practices, guard against those who would stifle civil debate and restrict access to information.

We don't need to look to Washington to see these threats. They are here at home.

Maureen Wilson is a member of The Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton.

3 Comments

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted October 06, 2017 at 09:05:54

Very well said Maureen! And for the record, both of them have blocked me as well. In neither case was the subject matter LRT nor did I use profanity. Judi for posting about the urban/rural divide for Fire Levies (ie residents on Parkside Drive who live across the street from the fire station paying the lower rural rates). Terry for, ... well I'm not sure. He said he's been advised to not engage in conversation with citizens that are party to a litigation (ie election campaign finances issue)even if the subject matter is completely different. Yet, we do communicate via email on other matters of public interest and following an elected representative doesn't obligate them to converse. As you pointed out, blocking is restricting public access to information & stifling civil debate. This practice should be concerning to all.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted October 06, 2017 at 10:55:50

minor quibble: why do you keep calling them "publicly funded"? aren't they free? I guess if the politician has a social media staffer it's publicly funded but is that what is happening here?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 06, 2017 at 11:12:12 in reply to Comment 121999

Councillors are publicly-funded: their incomes, offices, equipment, staff assistants, and so on. When a councillor is tweeting work-related stuff, they are doing so on the public dime - we are paying them to tweet.

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