Politi­cians be­hav­ing badly

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED -

This morn­ing I helped my el­dest son find a cou­ple of mu­sic videos on YouTube. Con­sid­er­ing him safely amused for a mo­ment, I turned my at­ten­tion to my younger son who needed san­dals on and a hat found and a pa­tio door opened. Back to my older son, I go, as he’s be­come sus­pi­ciously quiet. I find him en­sconced in the com­puter chair watch­ing an episode of South Park. “What!?” he com­plains as I sput­ter and reach for that X in the up­per right cor­ner, “it’s a car­toon; it’s ap­pro­pri­ate!”

He’s at that ter­ri­fy­ing age where he wants to know more, see more, hear more, read more and able to find what he’s look­ing for, but not able to judge the in­for­ma­tion he’s re­ceiv­ing or sep­a­rate out the valu­able or ap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion from the very worth­less garbage.

I iden­tify with him in many ways. Like when I try to fol­low po­lit­i­cal news and com­men­tary us­ing so­cial me­dia. It’s be­com­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble to find the in­for­ma­tion while wad­ing through the garbage of New­found­land pol­i­tics’ bul­ly­ing and ban­ter­ing.

And the na­tional scene is no bet­ter, re­ally, though there’s more peo­ple, like me, tak­ing it se­ri­ously and en­gag­ing in real dis­cus­sion rather than name-call­ing and mud-throw­ing.

Back in high school, I had the great for­tune of hav­ing an as­tute lan­guage arts teacher and at­tend­ing his class dur­ing a fed­eral elec­tion year. He as­signed us the task of fol­low­ing the fed­eral elec­tion cov­er­age and writ­ing re­sponses to the is­sues and events cov­ered. I still have the binder of clip­pings and re­sponses I wrote tucked away in my base­ment. That as­sign­ment sparked a life­long in­ter­est in ad­di­tion to teach­ing me rhetoric and re­sponse. I fol­lowed the elec­tion cov­er­age on the TV news each night, turned up the ra­dio when dis­cus­sions on the is­sues were tak­ing place, and clipped many an ar­ti­cle, photo, let­ter to the ed­i­tor, col­umn and ed­i­to­rial car­toon from the Evening Tele­gram.

To­day, though, if students were given the as­sign­ment to “fol­low” po­lit­i­cal dis­course or elec­tion cov­er­age for school, they would most likely be­come “fol­low­ers” of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Twit­ter. Per­haps they’d friend or subscribe to some com­mu­ni­ca­tions peo­ple, an­a­lysts, or politi­cians on Face­book. They’d watch YouTube video re­sponses made in a Rant like Rick style

of

clip­ping ed­i­to­rial in­stead toons.

This is the new me­dia and it’s what our young peo­ple are us­ing to get both in­for­ma­tion and en­ter­tain­ment.

Un­like TV news­casts, news­pa­per re­ports, and even ra­dio talk­shows, so­cial me­dia, in gen­eral, has no ed­i­tor. There is no over­sight com­mis­sion track­ing what’s be­ing said and how. So it’s very easy for some­one to be look­ing for ap­pro­pri­ate, in­for­ma­tive tweets or Face­book sta­tuses and be struck, in­stead, with worth­less garbage.

And if any­one has been fol­low­ing the #nlpoli hash­tag on Twit­ter these days, as I can imag­ine as­tute and mod­ern teach­ers might’ve en­cour­aged their students to do, they’d find mostly worth­less garbage.

For months, de­bate in the House has been car­ried on­line through Twit­ter, Face­book and the blogs of those watch­ing. Dur­ing that time we’ve had to put up with watch­ing those like Paul Lane, PC MHA for Mount Pearl South, jump on any­one ex­press­ing con­cern or open­ing de­bate about pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics.

car- There’s never a fray he’s not will­ing to jump into with his own ag­gres­sive tweets. Then we have the pri­vate an­a­lysts like Sue Kelland Dyer (@Hy­droQueen on Twit­ter), who push their agenda too far us­ing in­nu­endo and rant-like com­plaints rather than real facts and proper de­bate.

But once the House closed, I sup­pose ev­ery­one got bored and de­cided that if they had noth­ing in­for­ma­tive to say they’d amass a whole lot of worth­less garbage and hope to keep their fol­low­ers en­ter­tained. There was Shan­non Reardon, now for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist for the Lib­eral party, at­tack­ing Steve Kent with per­sonal in­nu­endo re­gard­ing his vol­un­teer work with Boy Scouts Canada.

She was im­me­di­ately called out by David Cochrane of the CBC for her com­ments, which then re­sulted in ev­ery­one in the #nlpoli twit­terverse join­ing in the dis­cus­sion. It fi­nally ended with the pro­nounce­ment that her com­ments did not re­flect the Lib­eral party of NL be­cause she no longer worked for them. But that, of course, was not the end re­ally. Kent then had to retweet the whole sad af­fair and get off a few zingers about how ap­pro­pri­ate it was that Reardon was fired (though the na­ture of the end of her con­tract with the Lib­er­als does not seem to be a mat­ter of pub­lic record).

This is what a teenager to­day try­ing to fol­low po­lit­i­cal dis­course would read. And I thought the ed­i­to­rial car­toons could get a bit nasty when I was young. The na­ture of po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion on­line in this prov­ince has gone from bad to wretched. Yes, we still have our Ed Hol­let’s blog­ging sen­si­bly, but when one con­sid­ers that most young peo­ple to­day find the ma­jor­ity of their in­for­ma­tion and do the ma­jor­ity of their re­search on­line, and when one re­al­izes that teenagers of­ten view tweets as as re­li­able a source of in­for­ma­tion as Wikipedia — which they be­lieve supreme — it’s not hard to see that the like­li­hood of them de­vel­op­ing strong po­lit­i­cal lit­er­acy is pretty low.

Like I told my seven-year-old this morn­ing, “just be­cause it looks suit­able doesn’t mean it is; you need to judge how ap­pro­pri­ate the con­tent is.” Mean­while, I’d let him watch South Park way be­fore I would let him see how badly be­haved the peo­ple in this prov­ince who should be his role mod­els are.

Dara Squires is a free­lance writer and mom of three based in Cor­ner Brook. You can contact her on face­book at www.face­book.com/read­ilya­parent

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