It seems that Pat Martin has finally recognized his limitations. Ending his Twitter account was probably the smartest thing he could do for his political career, given his temperament.
There may be some Members of Parliament who see Mr. Martin’s situation as a reason not to have a Twitter account, but I disagree. Twitter can be an effective tool for an MP to engage his constituents. However, there are certain rules and conventions that a professional politician needs to be aware of. In no particular order:
- A tweet has, potentially, the entire world as its audience. You must never make the mistake of thinking that your tweet will only be seen by your followers. Because your followers have followers of their own, and they’re perfectly capable of retweeting whatever you choose to write. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum.
- There is no such thing as an “accidental” tweet. Unlike physical speech, tweeting is a conscious act. You choose the words you type into your computer, tablet or smartphone; you choose whether or not to hit “send.” Slips of the tongue can be made by inadvertence; a tweet has no such excuse.
- If you publicly identify with an affiliation, then every tweet you send reflects on that affiliation. This is one of the reasons why Mr. Martin’s latest tirade was so problematic; it reflects badly on (a) his actions as a Member and (b) his conduct as a member of the New Democratic caucus.
- There is no such thing as “off the record” when tweeting. Even if you erase a tweet, there’s a chance that someone may have captured it in a Google cache somewhere.
- There will always be trolls. It can’t be helped; there will always be hyperpartisans on Twitter, who will make it their business to draw you out into tweeting something foolish. It takes a certain amount of mental discipline not to fall into their traps.
There are other rules and conventions, of course, but these seem to be the more obvious ones for now. If you can think of others, please feel free to comment.