Social media is dangerous: to political careers, at least. Just in the past couple of months, we’ve seen a wave of unplanned staff resignations due to Facebook or Twitter posts, usually something racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise awful.
This week, they came for a friend-of-e.politics: Liz Mair, a conservative digital political campaigner who’d just gone to work for Scott Walker budding presidential campaign. She didn’t say anything reprehensible, though: she just spoke her mind forthrightly, in many cases telling political truths most people only mutter in private. Her past tweets about Iowa’s role in Republican politics caused a particular stir and led to the immediate calls for her head; the sanctity of the Straw Poll and similar rituals must not be questioned. Banish her to the wilderness!
Bah! I’ve wondered before if one day only robots will be able to run for office, and now we see that the same rules will apply to campaign staff — no challenging ideas or innocent misteps allowed. As I noted in Niall Stanage’s exploration of the incident in The Hill, “The problem for political staff is that the range for acceptable political speech is just a lot narrower than it is for nonpolitical speech.” That’s why politicians so often seem fake: they can’t say most of what any of us would naturally think, because their every word is a conversational Improvised Explosive Device aimed right back at their heads.
The danger to our political system is that limiting speech stifles real political dialog and any chance to challenge Accepted Truth, making it that much harder to nudge institutions like the Republican Party in a different direction. We are poorer as a political culture for it, and I fear the problem will only grow as we live more and more of our lives in the digital public sphere.
My other fine quote in Stanage’s article, BTW?
Delany agreed, wryly noting how times have changed.
“When I was coming up, it was smoking pot that got you in trouble,” he said. “Now, it’s social media that can turn everything upside down.”
Here’s a modest proposal: potential political staff can smoke pot* AND speak their minds about things that matter, as long as they don’t reveal themselves to be hateful bastards. Deal? Update: Realistic answer: maybe when pigs fly….
*Where it’s legal.