Should elected officials be allowed to block people's access on social media accounts?
I am sympathetic to the argument that citizens should by default, be allowed to receive communications and interact with elected officials and government departments first hand. Social media posts like a tweet, facebook message or otherwise should give consideration to both official languages and in the case of departments should fall within the mandate of the department in question in a non-partisan manner.
However, when we start talking exclusively about individual ministers and other members of Parliament, it starts to become less clear cut. There are guidelines for ministers and parliamentary secretaries as well as requirements for ministers to preserve social media communications for future generations (if you think we are tired of hearing about ‘the middle class and those working hard to join it' imagine the archivist who has to preserve all of this). In short, you can't use taxpayer funded resources for personal or partisan gain and you must preserve records of social media posts.
Should elected officials block people who may be abusive or threatening? I would submit that most would support the blocking of such individuals. Although not well known outside of Ottawa, one female MP was forced to pursue criminal charges against an individual who made very serious and disturbing online threats that created a fear for her safety. These types of situations are completely unacceptable and often come from anonymous social media accounts.
Ultimately every member of Parliament has a different style and way of communicating. Recently, I received a suggestion that each year an elected official should disclose exactly how many people they currently block on social media. In my case the answer to that question is zero however it's understandable that others would have higher number than that.
The most common frustration that I often hear from people is if their MP or a minister has blocked them in a manner they feel is unfair, they have no process or recourse aside from the ballot box to challenge that. Blocking can create a feeling of being unfairly convicted as guilty when the only offence may be asking a tough question.
I view social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to be an online marketplace of ideas. Our democracy has benefited an increasing number of elected officials can communicate and be held accountable. At times, there can even be constructive and useful debates that enhance the knowledge of all involved.
While social media use is not perfect and can benefit from improvement, let's not overthink it. It is important to let elected representatives make up their own minds and conduct themselves accordingly online. Let us all be mindful that ultimately every elected official is held accountable at the ballot box.