Stifling Dissent Through Blocking?

Should politicians block citizens they don’t happen to agree with, or who are clearly partisan, from following them on social media such as Twitter and Facebook?

That’s a question being asked in Canada and the United States. The answer is simple: No.

Globe and MailPoliticians are wrong to block people on social media

Today the Globe and Mail came out with a great editorial on the ethics of blocking. This has become an issue of some concern as legitimate dissent has been stifled on politician’s social media feeds when people have been blocked on Twitter or Facebook.

The comments were really interesting too. One reader commented that they had actually been blocked by Elizabeth May when they were a Green Party supporter. The reader subsequently left the party and never voted for May again.

I was blocked by Elizabeth May some years ago when I actually held a Green Party membership.

I did not renew and did not vote for the Green party in the subsequent election.

Globe and Mail, August 7, 2017 Comment

Good for that reader -there are consequences for stifling dissent.

As a principal of a Catholic School in Ottawa, I did block people on Twitter – it was the wrong decision.

I blocked someone on the Catholic Right who was very critical of the Catholic School System. I had had enough of right-wing commentators so I blocked them from my Twitter account. I did this out of frustration and anger and while they were effectively silenced from my feed, my action showed my lack of tolerance for an opinion that was different from my own. It was certainly a weak decision.

Once I retired, I began to write a series of articles that were critical of my former employers. The Catholic Board in Ottawa is a public entity, supported entirely by the tax payers of Ontario. I have come to believe that we no longer need separate schools in our province and that we could do a better job for students if we had a single, strong system that caters to all students in the province.

This opinion was not popular with many of my former colleagues, and to their credit, many voiced their opinion on Facebook. I did not block them – they have the right to express their dissent.

To my surprise, a senior member of the school board blocked me on Twitter. This action was no doubt due to the series of articles that I had written.

How is this right? A superintendent is a public official, their salaries are paid out of the public purse. As public officials do they have the right to stifle legitimate dissent by blocking people on social media?

I would extend what the Globe has written to all public officials,

No MP, or even a cabinet minister, will be criticized for blocking anyone who posts hateful messages or engages in harassment.

But barring that, it’s wrong for elected officials to choose which Canadians can see what they think, and which ones can’t.

In an age where public comment is seen by the highest authorities as ‘fake news’, we need to have even greater respect for public opinion, not just those who happen to agree with a particular mindset.

From CBC’s The 180 – It’s Time to End Public Funding for Catholic Schools

This morning on CBC’s The 180, there was a great 7-minute feature on public funding of Catholic schools. You can listen to the piece here.

The piece is really interesting. Charles Pascal, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, has been making the argument that Ontario should have one secular school system for some time.

The topic is re-emerging in Ontario since OPEN – One Public Education Now launched a court challenge stating that public funding of Catholic schools violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Two points struck me in this piece. First, politicians in Ontario are terribly risk-adverse and are not willing to challenge a political decision that was first taken back in the days of Egerton Ryerson to publicly fund Catholic schools. Pascal raises the question of why legislators are so afraid. Similar moves have been made in Newfoundland and Quebec in the past few years and the sky did not fall.

In Ontario, touching funding of Catholic schools is considered the ‘The Third Rail’ According to Wikipedia, the third rail of a nation’s politics is a metaphor for any issue so controversial that it is “charged” and “untouchable” to the extent that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject will invariably suffer politically.

The second point that was very interesting had to do with public opinion about Catholic schools. According to Pascal, up to 70% of Ontario’s population is in favour of one public system, but the 30% in favour are powerful and as Pascal characterizes it ‘voracious’ in their support of the system.

I can understand this. Everytime I post on this topic, I get all sorts of negative comments and sometimes these attacks come from Catholic educators, some I worked with for years. I will get more negative comments after this post – mostly in the vein of not being ‘loyal’ or being naive about how the world works etc, etc. I will be unfollowed or blocked by more Catholic educators. So it goes.

To be clear, I worked in the Catholic system for 31 years the last six as a principal. Based on my experience, there is no logical reason for keeping this system in place. I was a committed Catholic educator for all these years, but to me fairness and equity are more important that propping up a system that is now an anachronism.