The fact that Senator Patrick Brazeau took to Twitter to insult Canadian Press journalist Jennifer Ditchburn because of an article she wrote -- suggesting she change the "D" to a "B" in her last name -- says something about the level of discourse on the social media platform. Who better to speak to this than Charlie Angus, the MP who famously left Twitter because of the mostly asinine comments ("I hate you asshole - and you sing terribly") clogging up his feed? Here's what Angus had to say about the most recent Twitter spat and the platform in general.
What do you think of Twitter as a means of political discourse?
As a vehicle it's almost always used to say something stupid by politicians. Everybody gets to be a Grade 9 girl. But Brazeau is not accountable to anybody [because he's a senator], and can say what he wants [without jeopardizing his job]. What is anybody going to do? Most politicians can be as snide as they want to on Twitter but they actually have to face comeuppance when they go back to the people at Tim Horton's or wherever. An ignorant comment will affect them.
Why are politicians so drawn to Twitter?
There's no break with it. I mean, I noticed again with the recent bill C-38 discussions going all night, everyone was saying "Check this out on Twitter" but it was always things such as "Look who's sleeping with their mouth open." That was one of reasons I got off. Your quick instinct is to say something kind of snide and hope the whole world will hear. Otherwise, you're just saying something snide.
Do you miss not being on Twitter?
Literally everyday I think "Thank God." Every time I make a statement there's not 55 trolls trying to throw rocks at me. If someone doesn't like what I say they can write or e-mail me but Twitter takes no effort. It's toxic white noise that is distracting and I've talked with many politicians from all sorts of political stripes who tell me they wish they could do what I did. Something about it is moving towards permanent snark. I'm on Facebook all day and I don't get those types of comments. When I make a public statement now I don't worry that people will decide to fill my Twitter feed with asinine comments trying to pick a fight.
How have you seen Twitter change since you first joined?
When I first got on Twitter it was mostly inane banter and people talking about their soup order from the line-up of a restaurant. It seems Twitter has now found a kind of ugly niche. Now it's more productive not being on it. Man, I'd never go back. So when I looked at the Brazman's feed I thought "Is that an adult conversation I'm watching?" I watch my daughter's text feed and they tend to be more mature than this. (Angus' daughter is 19.)
How can we elevate Twitter discourse?
[Twitter's decline] has happened quickly and we haven't had a conversation about it. The technology changed how we relate to one another in a dramatic sense. Many people and politicians thought for a long time "I have to be on Twitter." Twitter was supposed to be something to improve the democratic process but what it's done is turned us all into 14-year-olds in a cafeteria. I'm not superior to anyone else. I have the same instinct to say nasty, inane things and hope they get picked up but that's not what we're here to do. In terms of the Brazman, he's set until he's 74, so expect more colourful comments.
Follow Angelina Chapin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/angelinachapin