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Murray Mandryk: Moe’s silly Twitter spat raises more serious questions

Saying what you want, whenever you want, for free, sounds like a politician’s dream. It’s…until people start saying things back.

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The advantage of social media in today’s political world is that it provides a way for politicians to communicate directly and immediately with almost everyone in perhaps less formal ways than before.

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Unfortunately, so is his curse, as Premier Scott Moe seems to have discovered of late.

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Saying what you want, whenever you want, for free, sounds like a politician’s dream. It’s…until people start saying things back.

It’s about a decision by Moe — or rather, a decision by people he’s hired to manage his own social media accounts at taxpayer expense — to block some people responding to the personal, non-government Twitter posts reply to the Prime Minister.

Most of Moe’s tweets are the usual benign, smug stuff. Really, doesn’t that align with most people’s social media feeds?

But the tweet that ignited this Twitter spat was one in which Moe reposted a Western Standard story, He again quotes himself as saying, “Catch and release works well when you’re fishing. That doesn’t work so well when you’re dealing with felons.”

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Of course, this has always been a common sentiment — especially among Moe’s political base. Not for nothing is it also the topic of conversation for them The same issue is raised by the Conservative Party in the House of Commons.

However, this tweet seemed to incite the anger of some and provoked some belligerent and offensive reactions. Some were even worse.

Some brought up Moe’s own 1992 driving under the influence (DUI) conviction (which was uncovered during his 2018 Saskatchewan party leadership run), a 1994 drunk driving charge for which he was not convicted, and a charge of leaving the Accident location from 1997 to language one death. (The latter two incidents first became widely known in the early days of the politically charged 2020 election.)

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Some of the replies would easily be viewed as defamatory. But since you can’t sue Twitter, and since it’s extremely difficult to sue people for their social media posts — especially if some of the authors have anonymous accounts — the forum recommends reporting and blocking abusers.

This is how Moe’s handlers started.

As explained by Moe’s communications staff at the office that “manages” Moe’s personal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Youtube accounts, they adhere to the Saskatchewan government’s formal account guidelines and monitor “spam, Bullying, intimidation, harassment, hateful content, threats, discrimination, pornography, graphic violence, defamatory or derogatory comments.”

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Herein lies the problem: if there is a taxpayer-funded component, should any taxpayer – even an obnoxious one – block it? If Moe uses his social media feeds to bypass the media and direct government statements to the public, as he occasionally does, does he have the right to block someone?

It’s understandable that blocking an obnoxious, anonymous Burner account from who-knows-where doesn’t exactly violate a Saskatchewan citizen’s rights…or even their social media privileges. We can all block those who refuse to identify themselves, for whatever reason we choose to do so. Most of us do that.

But can a prime minister whose staff consistently uses their social media feeds to make seemingly newsworthy statements block someone?

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New Democratic MLA Meara Conway has raised this very question, noting that former US President Donald Trump violated his country’s First Amendment.

Of course, that’s a different country, but politicians here, like former Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, may be forced to “unblock” people who are blocked on Twitter due to public pressure.

And Conway probably has a more valid point than the past abusive, racist, and even threatening comments on Moe’s Facebook account were left in apparent violation of policy.

The problem seems to be a lack of discretion. A simple solution would be for ruling politicians to stop using personal accounts (where they seem more free to be partisan) for government statements.

If politicians want to fight Twitter trolls in their spare time, that’s clearly their choice. But they really shouldn’t be doing it in our time.

Mandryk is a political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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