To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question for city council. Recently, the few twitter-friendly Councillors have sent out messages of disapproval while in council meetings, and one or two of the messages have been less than polite. The target of those rude tweets complain that the short messages are insulting, and they distract from council business. The argument over tweeting came to a boil yesterday when there was a rumour that the mayor wanted to ban tweeting by Councillors during meetings. The rumour has been mostly disarmed, turned from a ban to a request for civility and appropriate language, but there are a couple of valid questions that still need to be looked at.
First, and most important, is Twitter (and any other social media) a valid method of communication between our elected officials and the citizens they represent? I’d argue that these new forms of communication are logical extensions of an elected officials obligation to make their decisions and opinions accountable to the people. They supplement the traditional letter-writing or phone-calling that any constituent can do to reach out and ask “why did you vote that way?”. Instead of waiting for days to find out the rationale behind a decision, you can get a brief explanation as the situation unfolds. If our goal is to involve people as actively as possible in the governance of their city (and I really hope it is our communal goal) then having real-time insight into the decisions being made on our behalf moves us in the right direction. I’m not advocating for each and every Councillor to keep an eye on Twitter and respond to every question thrown at them, but they should be encouraged to keep the lines of communication open.
And of course, what kind of rules should apply to Councillor tweets? That’s a simple matter of etiquette. Any message sent while you do city business is done as an elected official, and has to hold to a level of decorum and politeness. Insulting or crude language should be off-limits for any official communication, and that extends to social media. If your Facebook account has the word “Councillor” in front of your name, then anything you post could be construed as coming from a Councillor’s office, so post appropriately.
The other part of decorum is making sure that you pay attention to the speaker and the proceedings.each Councillor needs to make sure that their tweeting isn’t a distraction from your duties. Then again, it sometimes looks like a couple of Councillors are trying to squeeze in a power nap during meeting time, so the bar for attentiveness is relatively low.
I can’t make it to City Hall to watch the marathon meetings with any regularity, but I am able to follow along by checking in on twitter. The dedicated observers in the gallery, along with the members of the press, do a great job tweeting their take on what they’re seeing, but the Councillor tweets make my virtual experience an engaging one.
On an unrelated note: I’ve received a lot of positive responses about the blog in the last week or so, including a generous donation from one reader. I’m grateful and humbled to have engaged and enthusiastic readers, and I hope that I can keep the conversation interesting and relevant to all of you. Thank you so much for reading, and to my benefactor, thank you for your kind generosity.