Brian Mason: doing social media wrong, since yesterday

This is day two of my blog, and I’m already in trouble – on Twitter actually. It seems that I’m doing social media all wrong. According to Duncan Kinney: “I think @bmasonndp might want to reconsider this whole social media kick he’s been on. He’s doing it wrong.” It all started off with a snarky welcome from Dave Cornoyer: “After criticizing the @AlbertaParty for focusing on social media, NDP leader Brian Mason has started a blog.”

One thing I’ve learned in two decades in politics is to correct the record if someone misquotes you or misrepresents what you say. And I didn’t criticize the Alberta Party for using social media. I criticized the Alberta Party for what it believes and says. So I set the record straight, and that began a real “twitterfest”. As my friend Lou Arab said a few weeks ago, “Tweeting something bad about the #abp is like throwing a ping pong ball into a room full of mousetraps – tonnes of fun.”

The idea that social media is only intended only for abstract policy discussons is how the Alberta Party folks would like to define it’s use. It’s a notion I want to challenge. This is really just an extension of a broader idea underlying much of the Alberta Party’s approach, which is that politics is essentially bad, and if we could just focus on “best practices”, things would be much better. Indeed, today some AP twitterers criticized me for taking the discussion away from policy.

Policy ideas are critically important in politics and government, no doubt about it. But those who over-emphasise policy, like those who over-emphasise process, are losing sight of some fundamental political realities. Political ideas come from somewhere, and we need to understand where.

Take climate change, for example. There is an overwhelming scientific concensus that climate change threatens coming generations with starvation, disease and inundation by rising sea levels. And yet there has been a rising chorus of climate change sceptics who challenge the scientific evidence and the causal links to human activity. Where does this come from? The links between climate change deniers and the petroleum industry and other corporate interests are well documented. They have funded scientists, politicians and media outlets who deny climate change. We simply can’t understand the climate change debate from a strictly policy-based approach. An understanding of the economic interests and the political relationships behind the debate is crucial.

The health care debate is an other example. While most research indicates that increasing levels of private delivery mean a corresponding increase in overall costs and declining patient care, much government health care policy has favored increased levels of private health care delivery. This has been generally true across Canada, except in provinces with NDP governments. Why? Tens of billions of dollars are spent each year in Canada on health care, most of it going to public services. Private health care corporations, insurance companies and pharmacutical corporations relentlessly lobby governments in Canada to increase private provision of services. They fund organizations like the Fraser Institute to do research and to train people like Danielle Smith to work in media and politics. And they fund political parties that support their cause.

Politics is how we resolve the struggle between competing interests in our society. Attempting to minimize its importance merely tends to obscure the actual interests behind the ideas and policies in the debate. If you can’t understand the politics and economics behind policy ideas, you are helpless. And hopeless.

About brianmasonndp

I am the MLA for Edmonton Highlands-Norwood.
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21 Responses to Brian Mason: doing social media wrong, since yesterday

  1. bill says:

    Ha – you used the word “snarky”! I’ve never heard anyone use that other than my dad – thanks for making me smile and think of him!

  2. Ian says:

    I think the Alberta Party does one thing right by trying to reach out to disenfranchised citizens and voters who have given up on the traditional political parties due to their rhetoric and seemingly substance-less debates. At the very least, it should be a wake up call to all traditional political parties when listening to the voters is seen as a novel concept. Perhaps the NDP should incorporate these ideas rather than just criticize them?

    • court says:

      The Alberta party might reach out to the “disillusioned” citizens, conservative voters, but the disenfranchised citizen has but one hope, and it’s on the left.

      • Lily T. says:

        I think it’s rather disappointing when the activities of the Alberta Party are written off by the NDP (and I’ve heard this from a number of NDPeeps) as simply “oh they’re just drawing the conservatives, not people like us”… because I consider myself progressive (and in fact, Brian represents me in his riding), and if I were to jump ship, the Alberta Party is where I would go. I’ve had a number of conversations with their members; many of whom I respect greatly and consider friends. The attitude of “oh, they’re nothing to worry about” is precisely the kind of thing that will leave the NDP “surprised” one day if they end up losing seats to them…

      • court says:

        If you are concerned about the disenfranchised, why would you be jumping to the right? I think it would be great if more parties really cared about the disenfranchised.

    • Denny says:

      Ian, the Alberta Party uses just as much rhetoric as the other parties. Frankly I keep hearing them claim their doing things differently, and claiming that they listen to votes and the other parties don’t, but at the end of the day that’s all just rhetoric.
      I really haven’t seen any concrete examples of how the Alberta Party listens to voters any more than the NDP does.

  3. DJ Kelly says:

    This is the kind of post that is doing social media right. Much better than the way you handled Dave’s comments on Twitter. (Which is actually what Duncan was commenting on.) Keep up this kind of interaction and you won’t have to worry about mud slinging.

    Far be it from me to guess Alberta Party ideals, but if I we’re to hazard a guess, that is what they are talking about when decrying “politics”.

  4. Duncan Kinney says:

    Whatever you do Brian, keep blogging.

  5. joelaf says:

    “Politics is how we resolve the struggle between competing interests in our society. Attempting to minimize its importance merely tends to obscure the actual interests behind the ideas and policies in the debate. ”
    Hear, hear.

  6. Lily T. says:

    “If you can’t understand the politics and economics behind policy ideas, you are helpless. And hopeless.”

    This statement disturbed me as I think that political activism is often described by those who are already involved as a sort of civic duty; but the reality of it is that being and becoming involved with politics is made vastly easier from a position of privilege.

    Understanding politics involve an investment of time and energy. For a lot of people, especially the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, this may not be a rational investment for them. If someone is say, trying to raise 3 kids on minimum wage, is it really realistic for them to get involved? (I know that for some activists, the answer would be yes– but I think they are really the ones who are hopeless as they let their idealism blind them to the realities of those less fortunate).

    If it is precisely those less fortunate and privileged that the NDP hopes to stand up for, perhaps language that imply victim-blaming could be avoided.

    • Hi Lily. The comment is directed at political parties and would-be politicians, not you or other citizens. I get how difficult it is for hard working folks to find the time to research politics.

  7. Bruce Martel says:

    You are not doing the right thing with this blog..keep it up!

  8. Mark Wells says:

    Great initiative here, Brian. Good work.

  9. daveberta says:

    Thanks for the mention, Brian.
    I’ll echo DJ’s comment. This is doing social media right.
    Keep up the good blog posts. I’m looking forward to more.
    Cheers,
    Dave

  10. Jerry Macdonald says:

    I think the weakness of using Twitter, in comparison to blogging and other online media, is the 140-character limit (or is it 160?). It encourages short “soundbite” posts that don’t fully discus the issues. My interpretation of your “Tweet their way to power” post about the AP was that while the blogosphere was all enthusiastic about this new political entity, the real way to electoral success is still about shoe leather and doorsteps, and the Alberta Party is still too small to be a significant force in that arena (see their latest announcement about the 1,000th member).

    I also want to congratulate you on starting this blog. Good luck!

  11. Sue Huff says:

    Hi Brian,

    We in the Alberta Party share your concern about select groups having undue influence over policy direction, often for financial gain. That is why we develop policy in such a different way- WITH the people of Alberta, without the requirement to buy a membership, in an open and transparent manner. By taking policy into the light of day, we remove the likelihood of undue influence. By making it open to any Albertan, regardless of political affiliation, we remove the likelihood of only listening to those who agree with us. By opening the process up to thousands, we remove the likelihood of favouring an ideology over the best answer.

    You say we all need to understand where policy ideas come from and I agree. In our case, they come from the people. We put our faith in Albertans. There are so many bright, committed people in this province, who are willing to roll up their sleeves to make this a better province for all. It is my honour to work alongside them.

    Best regards,
    Sue Huff
    Acting Leader
    Alberta Party

  12. John G. Hoffman says:

    Sue, for the sake of sense, shut up.

    You’re flakier than a Greek phyllo, and here’s why:

    1. Is the Alberta Party really the first political party to develop policy “WITH Albertans?” Are you really claiming that? So are the Liberal policy events dating back to ol’ Mike Pearson too partisan for you (http://www.thestar.com/article/521540)? How about the Reform Party’s much-publicized conventions open to a wide variety of the right – and most famously, members of a controversial white supremacist group (http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/canadian/sirc/heritage-front/77.html)?

    2. Speaking of the Reform Party and white power, there’s an ideology that shore finds a foothold when you open up discussion in an ideological vacuum. Are you really predicting and pronouncing the ‘End of Ideology?’ By doing so, you’re substituting consensus for moral discourse… so in an extreme example (or maybe not so much) if 50% plus one of the good people of Alberta think it’s cool to hate gay people, that makes it okay? That sort of thinking has certainly ‘come from the people’ in the past, and if the Alberta Party stands for nothing, than they’ll certainly fall for everything.

    3. I, like others, have seen your policy leaflet: ‘Alberta Party Policies, Processes, and People.’ Maybe it should be retitled something along the lines of Platitudes, Puppydogs, and Pipedreams. Not that anything is bad, especially, but instead specifically crafted to say almost nothing at all. Check out these finely-honed bullet points. Can any Wildroser, Liberal or NDP party member find fault with these?

    “Make Alberta the best place to work and start a business – bar none” (under ‘Economy’)

    “Optimize the return from our resource-based industries and protect our environment” (under ‘Environment’)

    “Build a public education system that… provides opportunities to thrive.” (under ‘Education’)

    Look, I know a lot of the Alberta Party impetus came out of the idea that the Liberal Party brand in Alberta was unpalatable, and with the demise of the Alberta Greens, there was certainly a dearth of wacky kumbaya-singing kooks on the Alberta political landscape. But as Mason says in this blog, let’s call a spade a spade and cut the snake oil, Sue, and recognize that the tough decisions require a little backbone and a lot of leadership. Whether you’re in Alberta or in Wisconsin, that beautiful “policy” that you’ve crafted had better come with a little analysis and understanding, or you ain’t gonna get very far.

  13. Gaston says:

    “Politics is how we resolve the struggle between competing interests in our society”.

    Absolutely, and I hope that under favourable conditions a certain balance can be attained. It’s pretty clear that the great problem with Alberta politics is that the odds are currently so overwhelming that we don’t even begin to “resolve the struggle”.

    Enters the AP, along with a process that is quite seductive in theory. In my humble opinion the initial consultation process went in the right direction philosophically, unfortunately that’s where it stops. In a way they are the victims of unrealistically good intentions. If one looks a little closer, it look as if they have been oblivious to one big problem: The ‘process’ warranted that policies would be designed following a consultation rather than the traditional opposite views: where a natural consensus that arises amongst like minded people naturally influences policies. A likeness established along ideological lines. The AP can say all they want: ‘well, that’s the point! We are no traditional party, that’s why it’s going to work!” I say, good luck with that.

    Having no faith in ‘main stream politics’ somewhat temporarily served in uniting people around a name but it’s may not be enough to foster what I would call “the homogenization of effectives”. Unfortunately in that case the ‘process’ played against ‘policies’ because the raison d’être of ‘the process’ spelled out that the ‘policies’ would be quite diluted. So, it’s not surprising that the AP now continually harps on policies, it’s an attempt to compensate: It’s their Achille heel, and they know it. They are probably entertaining the hope that the further ahead they get the clearer it will be.

    Sadly, the only thing that’s clear to me right now is that the honey moon in between all of these disparate factions risk ending come next provincial election!

    One day we realized that always turning right at the same intersection caused us to always end up at the same place, going in circle. All the while there was another option, perhaps it would have been wise to go left instead. But it was unheard off. So people never really considered a change. Then came a new kid on the block, whom, in their wisdom advocated a novel approach: instead of turning right, or left for that matter we would just keep sailing straight ahead, do nothing and you don’t risk making mistakes.

    Not for me thank you.

  14. Robert says:

    Fantastic! 9 out of 17 comments mention the Alberta Party, and two more by well known Alberta Party members! On the nascent blog of the NDP leader, I think that speaks volumes.

  15. I don’t think one can really “do social media wrong”. You can use the media in any way you want. People may respond to it in different ways, but generally, you’re in charge and you determine the course you wish to take. And, perhaps, it might not be such a bad thing to do it “wrong” (i.e., differently from others), because this can make you stand out from the masses.

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