Canadian politics has a Twitter problem.
More and more, our elected representatives are using the social media platform in the most corrosive way, slinging mud, riling up supporters, fighting with opponents and delivering bullet points masquerading as serious policy, 280 characters at a time. It’s time for them to step away from their keyboards for a little while. They would be doing their country a favour.
Twitter isn't all bad, of course. It can democratize debate by giving citizens a vehicle for expressing their thoughts, and allows constituents to talk back impertinently at their elected representatives.
But if tweeting makes public debate more inclusive, its effect on the substance of that debate is less heartening. The ease of publishing that makes Twitter so accessible also encourages rash or facile exclamations. A user’s running scoresheet of “likes” and “retweets” draws out demagoguery that earns cheap applause. Worst, the limit on message length ensures that nuance is almost always lost.
For evidence of these defects, look no further than Maxime Bernier’s recent Twitter eruption about multiculturalism. Here is a topic at the heart of the Canadian national project. In a society of immigrants, should the state encourage integration or celebrate diversity? Are those goals compatible?
Whatever you think of Mr. Bernier’s argument that multiculturalism is fracturing Canadian society, expounding it in a handful of tweets was glib. If a politician wants to influence the national conversation on a subject as weighty as immigration and diversity, he should give a speech, or write a book.
Mr. Bernier is only symptomatic of a trend, of course, typified by the U.S. President. No Canadian is halfway as pernicious on Twitter as Donald Trump, but each federal party has a few MPs, some of them in cabinet or shadow cabinet roles, whose tweets can be caustic, petty and crude.
The world of social media seems to amplify those traits. Politicians in all parties who can deliver a thoughtful white paper in person resort to silly sarcasm and emojis when they tweet. They should save themselves, and their public, the embarrassment.