One of the most obvious strengths and weakness of social networks and micro-blogs like Twitter is the ability for users to communicate with a social network in live-time.
A month ago, Twitter became an issue of contention in the Alberta Legislature when Ken Kowalski imposed a blanket ban on the use of electronic devices by MLA on the floor of the Assembly during Question Period. Shortly after his decision, I penned a letter to Speaker Kowalski, asking him to keep an open mind when it came to the limitless potential for Internet and social media as tools to be used to re-connect Albertans with our democratic institutions (I still haven’t received a response). While I agree that MLAs should spend their time paying attention in QP, rather than playing on the Internet, the potential uses of these online communities should not be underestimated.
Yesterday afternoon, during a debate in the Legislature, Calgary-Egmont PC MLA Jonathan Denis (@JonoMLA) provided his colleagues with a perfect example of how Twitter can be misused on the floor of the Assembly. During a debate, Denis posted a tweet Twitter criticizing a colleague in the Assembly (it’s safe to assume that it was directed to NDP leader, and former bus driver, Brian Mason):
Recognizing the ridiculousness of his comment, I posted a response to Denis:
@JonoMLA And the Finance Minister is a retired nurse and piano teacher. What’s your point?
Hours later, when checking to see whether the Calgary-Egmont MLA had replied, I discovered that his comment has been deleted from his Twitter page:
To be fair, I don’t actually believe that Denis has anything against bus drivers. His hyper-partisan comment was likely a knee-jerk reaction to one of the all too common rhetoric-laden statements in the Assembly (it should also be noted that the first-term PC backbencher was only 13-years old when Mason was first elected to Edmonton City Council in 1989).
If used effectively, social networks like Twitter can serve as tools to help engage Albertans with their elected representatives and democratic institutions. Grande Prairie Alderman Bill Given (@BillGiven), MLAs Doug Griffiths (@GriffMLA) and Kent Hehr (@CalgaryBuffalo), and Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson (@DonIveson) provide Albertans with good examples of elected officials who have begun to use these tools for the purpose of positive citizen engagement.
While the deletion suggests that Jonathan Denis recognized that his comment was in poor taste, it becomes small mistakes like these that make it increasing difficult when trying to convince the vast sea of traditional old-school political thinkers of the important role that these online tools and social networks play in the 21st century. Our elected officials will need to exercise some common sense and maturity if they are serious about employing social networks like Twitter to create an atmosphere of positive engagement with citizens.