Twitterdee and Twitterdumb

Halifax councillors mostly fail at their use of Twitter.

Halifax councillors are mostly failing at their use of social media.

Take councillor Matt Whitman. Whitman represents the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains Road areas, and bills himself as the “inventor of reverse networking.” As he explains on his website, “reverse Networking is promoting others rather than myself. If I say I am the best whatever, you discount it because I am saying it. If someone else says something nice about me it is much more authentic…The key is not just ‘who you know’ anymore, it is who you know that is saying good things about you!”

Such an emphasis on positivity probably makes Whitman a good neighbour, and likely contributed to his successful election campaign. But on Twitter, Whitman has taken to blocking people for “being negative” by doing things like respectfully asking questions and highlighting problems in the district—precisely the reasons people want to contact their councillor. (I was blocked by Whitman, after I suggested an unannounced, and so therefore effectively secret, meeting between the managers of the Business Improvement Districts and councillors should've been agendized and open to the public.)

“Why does [Whitman] get to decide what is negative, what is constructive, and what about my online presence is ‘worthwhile’?” asks Jenny Gammon, who was blocked by Whitman last week, after she politely inquired about his habit of blocking other Twitter users. “Since I’m blocked on Twitter for being negative, will he answer my phone calls or emails? Will he take my opinions into account when he makes decisions for our district? Now that I’m on his twitter blacklist, are my family’s needs now less important than those who toe the line the way he wants them to?”

Gammon took screenshots of the exchange:

Whitman subsequently apologized to Gammon on Twitter, but only before unblocking her. He also continues to have a protected account, meaning he must give prior approval to people following him.

In an email exchange with The Coast, Whitman seems perplexed by the reaction he's gotten from blocking people on Twitter.

"I like Twitter for my personal use, I like clicking on news stories from the Chronicle, Coast, Metro etc.... And Re-tweeting...." he writes. "I don't really use is a Councillor... Not really trying to effect anyone via twitter. I am very accessible to meet with people in person over coffee, or by phone or email.... I just don't think twitter is the best way to communicate about serious issues..."

From my perspective, Whitman is missing the point entirely. He's the one who ran for public office, and got elected. He's in the public eye. Twitter is a very public social media platform, and far more than with Facebook or Google +, users expect freewheeling discussion. More, Twitter can be an excellent way to see what is on people's minds, what's generating discussion; Whitman and other councillors would do well to follow as many of their constituents as possible, and engage with them.

And sure, Twitter isn't "the best" way to communicate about serious issues, but it's a damn good one: I've talked about any number of city issues on Twitter, and have learned much from my followers, while hopefully better informing at least a few people. Used with full engagement, Twitter can likewise bring a councillor into better and more fruitful contact with his or her constituents, without having to take "the best" step of arranging face-to-face meetings.

The exchange made me curious: how successfully are other councillors using Twitter?

Here's the basic Twitter information of Halifax councillors, as compiled through and from information gleaned through their Twitter accounts Tuesday afternoon. Dates refer to when each councillor joined Twitter.

March 30:
Linda Mosher
Tweets: 677
Following: 139
Followers: 376

May 3:
Matt Whitman
Tweets: 2,658
Following: 1,204
Followers: 1,187

July 19:
Waye Mason
Tweets: 21,083
Following: 920
Followers: 3,821

July 21:
Brad Johns
Tweets: 140
Following: 32
Followers: 279

November 10:
Mike Savage
Tweets: 997
Following: 261
Followers: 5,655

February 10:
David Hendsbee
Tweets: 119
Following: 630
Followers: 468

October 25:
Steve Craig
Tweets: 777
Following: 252
Followers: 437

November 8:
Darren Fisher
Tweets: 2,027
Following: 967
Followers: 993

November 28:
Tim Outhit
Tweets: 3,386
Following: 564
Followers: 1,154

December 13:
Lorelei Nicoll
Tweets: 621
Following: 1,681
Followers: 951

January 3:
Jennifer Watts
Tweets: 610
Following: 30
Followers: 1,234

May 12:
Gloria McCluskey
Tweets: 179
Following: 121
Followers: 578

July 23:
Russell Walker
Tweets: 25
Following: 1
Followers: 57

July 25:
Reg Rankin
Tweets: 35
Following: 45
Followers: 162

Councillors not on Twitter:
Barry Dalrymple
Bill Karsten
Steve Adams

A few comments:

I don't think it should be a requirement that councillors be on Twitter. It's better that they not be on Twitter, than to do it badly. I know that Twitter can be hugely time-consuming, so I can respect the decision to not partake...even though I would encourage councillors not to avoid this potential for interaction with constituents.

What surprised me is that the councillors who have been on Twitter the longest—Mosher and Whitman—are among the weakest Twitterers. Mosher got on Twitter so early, that she has a premium handle, @kicking, that's probably worth real money, if she wanted to sell it. And yet, she's only following 139 people, and makes few tweets herself. I think she's missing out on a great tool.

Whitman is also the only sitting councillor who has a protected account, although former councillor Dawn Sloane did as well. For politicians, protected accounts are problematic. As Gammon says, "Whitman unblocked me over the weekend but still continues to use a protected account so to see it I will have to follow him in the hopes that he doesn't disagree with something I say and block me all over again." More, protected accounts are just another barrier, preventing even approved people from re-tweeting the protected tweets.

In my opinion, the best councillor Twitterers are Tim Outhit, Waye Mason and Darren Fisher, who are on Twitter often, engaging in honest conversation and following many people.

It appears to me that mayor Mike Savage's account is overly cautious, and in the hands of communications people rather than the mayor himself. It ill serves him, I think, making him look increasingly like a packaged, sound-bite-y politician.

I'm curious to see what readers think. Please tell us how you perceive councillor Twitter use in the comments.

About The Author

Support The Coast

At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support independent journalism. We are committed as always to providing free access to readers, particularly as we confront the impact of COVID-19 in Halifax and beyond.

Read more about the work we do here, or consider making a donation. Thank you for your support!

Comments (6)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Get more Halifax

The Coast Daily email newsletter is your extra dose of the city Monday through Friday. Sign up and go deep on Halifax.

Recent Comments

  • Re: The truth about great white sharks in Nova Scotia

    • I believe there was one more incident about 15 years ago that was reported by…

      Posted by: Morris Green on Aug 7, 2022

  • Re: Why Schmidtville matters

    • Agree 100%! It's amazing what you and the group have accomplished for the protection and…

      Posted by: Donna Brinson on Aug 4, 2022

  • Re: The politics of imagination

    • Really enjoyed this article, thanks for sharing. Evidence of the difficulty of pulling past what…

      Posted by: Bloctopods on Aug 4, 2022