a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Monday, November 1, 2010

Glen Murray tweets himself into trouble

Aside from being Ontario Research and Innovation Minister, Glen Murray has the distinction of being the first Canadian politician to have to apologize for something he said on Twitter.

For some reason, the rookie minister decided it would be a good idea to tweet the world that Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were prime examples of right-wing ignorance and bigotry.

Murray’s tweet was prompted by homophobic references in some campaigns around the province during the Oct. 25 municipal elections.

He wound up apologizing. Still he isn’t the first Canadian politician to make an ass of himself within 140 characters. That distinction likely belongs to federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, who rushed to take credit for preventing a drowning in a tweet almost as soon as the person was safely out of the water.

And you can be sure Murray won’t be the last politician to put his foot in his mouth over Twitter. Politicians have taken to Twitter in the much the same way they take to kissing babies or getting their pictures taken with hockey players.

Several dozen federal MPs have Twitter accounts. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tweeted his entire budget this year, 140 characters at a time. Tweets were an emerging tactic in the 2008 federal election and will be in the next.

One reason is that the public relations industry, always on the prowl for new services to sell, is almost as infatuated with Twitter as the politicians. Believe or not, there are already people in the PR industry selling their services as ghost tweeters to CEOs and others too busy to tweet for themselves.

But another reason might be that politicians today are so heavily scripted on what to say by the bureaucracy and the party leaders, Twitter offers them an easy opportunity to get something off their chest unsupervised.

Nobody has figured out a way to control tweeting by politicians, lest the parties take away their Blackberries. And that is not going to happen because modern government would soon grind to a halt.

Of course, 140 characters don’t leave much room for context or explanation, which explains why we have been getting a lot of nonsense from politicians’ tweets.

Murray’s adventure on Twitter might be a cautionary tale to other politicians. But we can only expect tweets to grow as a political tool of choice, whether they aid democracy or not.

No comments:

Post a Comment