Premier’s exit from Twitter makes waves

Daniel MacEachern and James McLeod
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Social media expert says fracas in House of Assembly could alienate constituents

An associate professor at Memorial University says the associations of politicians on social media sites have been blown out of proportion. — Photo illustration by The Telegram

A local social media expert says this week’s dustup over MHA Gerry Rogers’ Facebook account could turn off citizens.

Following Tuesday’s ejection of Rogers from the House of Assembly over her membership in an anti-Dunderdale Facebook group in which a user made death threats against the premier, a CBC news report revealed questionable associations among PC members’ own social media profiles, including that the premier’s Twitter account was following an X-rated profile that promotes pornographic videos.

Lyle Wetsch, an associate professor of marketing in Memorial University’s faculty of business administration, said the associations have been blown out of proportion.

“The big problem is that there’s a lot of reactionary responses going on right now, and I guess in my opinion, the biggest risk is that the true value of having government and having members of government connecting with constituents and engaging with them could be hampered by this dialogue that’s going on right now,” he said.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale deleted her Twitter profile Wednesday night after discovering it was following a pornographic account.

“When I found that somebody had attached disturbing material to my account, I disassociated myself with it immediately and took it down immediately,”  the premier said Thursday morning after speaking at the Skilled Trades Conference for Women and Youth. She added that she has been involved in anti-violence work her entire life. “I particularly understand how pornography contributes to violence against women and the degradation of women, and let me tell you, I am not going to be associated with anything that promotes that kind of behaviour.”

Wetsch said social media provides a “huge opportunity” for politicians to connect with citizens.

“Every individual is going to have their preferences and their styles of where things are,” he said. “If the premier has chosen not to go down that pathway, obviously that’s a choice that she’s made. But we very clearly can see the success of engaging with her constituents positively through social media, and you look at the examples of Barack Obama, you take a look at the mayor of Calgary, you look at Justin Trudeau, who’s basically following Barack Obama’s playbook from when he first got elected. We’re seeing that sort of engagement. And all of the research that has come out in the last couple of years is all really showing that the more government engages with constituents through social media, the higher level of trust there is from the constituents, the higher level of perceived transparency, and it translates into a lot more engagement by the constituents, even down to an increased level of volunteerism.”

Dunderdale said she accepted Rogers’ explanation that she was added to the group without her knowledge, but noted Rogers has refused to remove her Facebook account from the group.

“Given that she said that she had no knowledge about her being added to the group, that that was done without her knowledge, I accepted that,” said Dunderdale. “I said, ‘Fair enough. You didn’t know that you were on the group. But now you do, so are you going to disassociate yourself with the messaging that’s there, in significant amounts on the site?’ And she’s chosen to do something else, and I think that’s really disappointing, but it is what is.”

But Rogers isn’t backing down. She said she didn’t deliberately join the group, but in hindsight, if she’d known about it, she probably would have.

“This group is comprised primarily of citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador who are gathering in a public forum for political discourse, and most of their political discourse is about their discontent with  this current budget that’s before the House, and their discontent with this government,” Rogers said. “This group has been horribly maligned. There was one person, one person that we know of, apparently, has made threatening remarks. That’s a criminal offence. Those remarks have been taken down and the police are dealing with it — proper procedure as it should be.”

Rogers said by trying to associate her with the actions of everyone in the group — there are currently more than 2,000 members — the government is displaying “wilful ignorance” of how social media works.

On Tuesday, when the issue first came up, Rogers said she didn’t even know she’d been added to the Facebook group, and she hadn’t participated in any way. But she’s started participating now, inviting Facebook users to a town hall she’s holding next Wednesday evening to discuss issues around the provincial budget.

“I encourage all citizens of N.L. to continue the dialogue,” she wrote. “I strongly defend the right of all citizens to criticize their government and their politics.”

Dunderdale said MHAs are held to a higher standard. “We live in public life. We’re examples to people. We need to be careful about what we’re doing.”

The premier said she “very purposefully” hasn’t used her Twitter account in more than a year, and, in response to a question from a reporter, said she doesn’t feel it’s contradictory to delete her account after her government created the Office of Public Engagement to reach out to constituents.

“I engage with the public. Is there some requirement that I have to read every letter, read every email, have a Twitter account, be engaged in Facebook?” she said. “I have all kinds of opportunity to hear from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I have the freedom to choose which one of those, or how many of those tools that I’m going to use.”

Asked if Rogers’ ejection meant Rogers was expected to read every email she receives in order to prevent her name being associated with questionable comments, the premier reiterated she accepted Rogers’ explanation that she was added to the group without her knowledge, but again called for the MHA to remove herself from the group.

“She has decided not to. I think it’s sad, but I’m not having anything more to say about it. I’m moving on,” she said. “And in terms of my piece, people might be able to attach to my social feeds without my knowledge, but as soon as I become aware of it, it’s going to get taken down. I’m not going to be associated with that kind of vileness, or that kind of violence. I am just not.”

Dunderdale said there’s provincial business to attend to.

“I’ve spent enough time on this. I have work to do, I’ve got a budget that I’ve got to implement, I’m on a plane to Toronto this afternoon where I’m meeting with (Alberta) Premier (Alison) Redford and (Manitoba) Premier (Greg) Selinger and we’re getting on with the development of an energy plan, hopefully for this country, certainly for COF (Council of the Federation), that we can promote to the federal government so we can get on with the things that I’ve just talked about to the young people in this room.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel


Organizations: CBC, Office of Public Engagement

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Calgary, Toronto Alberta Manitoba

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Recent comments

  • rick
    April 24, 2013 - 07:18

    I always thought and i always believed that Jerome Kennedy being a Bay Boy would make a great career out of politics and maybe one day become our provincial leader.But what i have seen so far is, he is being tarred with the same brush as the remainder of the PC party. I can honestly say by what i am seeing so far Mr. Kennedy and his political carreer will be over in 2015 to bad

  • Denise
    April 20, 2013 - 07:57

    What happened to "guilty by association"? Doesn't that make the Premier guilty, too? If the Premier and her minions were mature adults representing the best interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, they wouldn't behave like like a bunch of pre-teens who can't wait to tattle on the kid they don't like and enjoy bullying. A mature individual would have approached Ms Rogers, PRIVATELY and inquired as to her association with this social media group. They would have given her the opportunity to fix the problem and not tried to bully her into a public apology. And how do elected officials have time to troll through social media? Shouldn't they be spending their time and resources trying to find revenue and jobs for all of the people they axed?! There are a lot of hurt, angry, and desperate people out there...I don't think the PCs have the right to be so smug, arrogant and dictatorial. And shouldn't the bottom line be that someone made threats and that's the big concern?

  • Max
    April 20, 2013 - 01:00

    The PCs don't want anyone to shed light on what it is they are doing.They want to keep the electorate in the dark, while having a free hand to do whatever they wish. The Premier has given up her Twitter account , to lessen the chance that she might let the cat out of the Bag during a Twitter session, and the electorate my get confirmation of what they suspect,, namely that the PC's are not acting in their (the electorates) best interest, but from a self interested point of which they go out of their way to favour big Business.

  • joe
    April 19, 2013 - 22:45

    The quicker we get rid of Dunderdale and her clowns the better. I can't wait until election day; it may be the first time I will vote NDP but I guarantee I won't be voting PC.

  • sheri
    April 19, 2013 - 18:08

    Dear Bob....Its called life ....we deal with it !!! I myself FYI will be in the same boat as of the first of June..what am I expected to do..kick and stomp like a 2year old? NO, I look for other options, and live off my savings until then..because we smart people are always prepared for times like this...correct? It sure isn't the fault of anyone else if you haven't prepared for times like these pal!..yes-suck it up!

  • ed
    April 19, 2013 - 13:40

    I fail to see what the problem is. If you saw a"letter to the editor" published in the Telegram that you disagreed with would you cancel your subscription to the newspaper? Get real, it's really the same thing. The only one responsible for the comment is the person who made it not the rest of the people on the facebook page. I voted for this government but they are out of control and believe they have a duty to skew surveys in their favour, also they are now the most secretive government in Canada. If Kathy and her gang think they are representing the citizens of Newfondland they should be telling us what they are up to and why, not hiding what is happening from us.

  • Bob
    April 19, 2013 - 13:16

    @ Sheri..."suck it up people". Suck it up eh kid? Would you just "suck it up" if you found out a few weeks ago you were losing your job and financial security and eventually your house.That's what is going to happen to me and many others when I am booted out because of these ridiculous budget cuts. Suck it up indeed.Just suck it up suck it up, sit and take it and suck it up.Smart lady you are.

  • crista
    April 19, 2013 - 12:19

    how many are being turned off of posting a comment???? because of what is gone on????

    • holy smokes
      April 19, 2013 - 17:06

      Not me.....The Canadian Charter guarantees me the right of association and the right to an opinion......I don't like this government ..I don't like the way they attempt to trample my right to my opinion and I don't like other citizens' rights trampled either....If my opinion differs from that of Kathy Dunderdale bloody what!.....If the sites I enjoy differs from that of Kathy bloody what! If the people I keep company with differs from that of Kathy Dunderdale bloody what!! When this pompous naive excuse for a government tries to dictate what I can do, where I can go and how I should behave...other than what is stipulated by law....she and THEY can...well, use your imagination....'Take off!, 'eh!! Good on Rogers....

  • Don
    April 19, 2013 - 10:49

    Lowest ranked Premier in Canada, third in the polls in NL.....means you take separate measures.

  • Scooter
    April 19, 2013 - 10:46

    "Dunderdale said MHAs are held to a higher standard. “We live in public life. We’re examples to people. We need to be careful about what we’re doing.”" Comment: Everyone has the same obligation to be careful about what they are doing. Further, winning an election does not make you, or entitle you to call yourself, examples / heroes / role models, etc... The idea behind that sort of comment has been used time and time again by politicians of all stripes. It reinforces an imaginary buffer between elected officials and the public. The notion that "we represent you and you should hold us to a hire standard" is an age old ploy to assert power because, in fact, it is seldom practised.

  • Ben
    April 19, 2013 - 10:28

    The big thing being missed here is the threats! This is not something that we should be taking lightly. There are alot of crazy people out there, in this province too. You don't have to be in a big city for some of this crazy stuff to happen. The threats left on this site were very disturbing! To me we are not taking them serious enough. I guess we have to wait for a bullet or a house burned down to realize what can happen. This is SAD!!

    • Wild Rose
      April 19, 2013 - 13:18

      I agree with you and Scooter 100%!!!

  • saelcove
    April 19, 2013 - 10:22

    They say that people who use social media are shallow so stunderdale fit,s right in

  • Scooter
    April 19, 2013 - 10:11

    "Dunderdale said MHAs are held to a higher standard. “We live in public life. We’re examples to people. We need to be careful about what we’re doing.”" Comment: Everyone has the same obligation to be careful about what they are doing. Further, winning an election does not make you, or entitle you to call yourself, examples / heroes / role models, etc... The idea behind that sort of comment has been used time and time again by politicians of all stripes. It reinforces an imaginary buffer between elected officials and the public. The notion that "we represent you and you should hold us to a hire standard" is an age old ploy to assert power because, in fact, it is seldom practised.

  • sheri
    April 19, 2013 - 08:55

    I agree Joe...suck it up people!! Since when is cut backs a new thing anyway? This is nothing new people...its life! Deal with it...Kathy is only one person ans is fighting for us, do you honestly think for a second that she wants to see us fail-come on now!

    • Robb
      April 19, 2013 - 09:19

      Right on is only the naysaying liberals and ndp that stir up all the negativity.......they just really want to make it look like premier Dunderdale is enjoying these cuts....well, what the stupid liberals and ndp do not realize is that most of the intelligent ones can easily see through their crap...yes, simply crap. It's all they know, and just give them something to jump on, which is everything and anything that this govt can do, and they put a negative spin on it....they don't care who they hurt by their actions, they just do it to get another stab at the govt. So never mind the Dunderdale must go crap, there are lots of people who think Dunderdale must stay.....and she won't give everything away to Quebec or to the unions, thank god. Now to my point....just who in the hell does this rogers think she is.....puts on the big puppy face, but then leaves her name on a violent website....???....just plain weird, and shows her real colors......never mind the puppy face, she is just as cut-throat as the rest of the liberal and ndp cronies.

  • Joe
    April 19, 2013 - 08:47

    Like it or lump it she has the right to be here until 2015

  • Ginger
    April 19, 2013 - 08:43

    And this makes “top stories”??? Wow!

  • Dunderdale Must Go
    April 19, 2013 - 08:34

    Dunderdale and her bunch of cronies are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is from the site....We are the common citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador who are fed up with the horrible mismanagement of our fine provi...nce. All members are free to post without needing admin approval. But we will remove anything hateful or threatening and may kick the person out of the group. Please report anything you feel needs removing. We cannot read everything and need you to help This is the link to the site:

  • Tony
    April 19, 2013 - 08:20

    Totaly disagree with "Bibbie" the goverment is smearing a group engaged in protest as is the right of all citzens of this province. The fact that some hotheads cross the line is no reason for everyone to be tarred with the same brush. Their comments were removed by the moderator and that should have been the end of the story. I'm frankly far more concerned that goverment see fit to monitor citzens engaging in protest as it is apparent someone with the goverment joined this group under false pretenses to keep an eye on them. That 's what is truely scarey

  • Bibbie from Nl
    April 19, 2013 - 07:08

    I am not a fan of the budget either but ,neither am I a fan of violence. You can criticize the budget and the members of any party without bringing bloodshed into it. If we join groups that have members sending this kind of message and we are encouraging our younger generation to support this kind of message by joining these groups or joining in with these kind of people at demonstrations, what is this going to do the society we live in. No wonder the crime rate is so high and citizens aren’t safe in their own homes. The premier is right in deleting her twitter account. Yes, you have no control if someone attaches your name to an account but you are in control of how you handle it. Gerri Rogers said, if she had to know about the group, she probably would have joined it anyway. This does not send a favourable message from the NDP but, then again a lot of what they stand for is just way out to lunch. If they become the next government, then God help us all.

    • Rhonda
      April 19, 2013 - 07:46

      Having to leave a group because 1 member out of hundreds makes a very inappropriate comment, or insinuation, is very narrow minded. That person is taken out of the group so the group and the RCMP are investigating. It is time for political figures to get with today's social media-it will make or break them and right now it is breaking the already crumbling PC party. Dunderdale has to go.

    • W McLean
      April 19, 2013 - 08:10

      Did you quit the PC Party when Danny Williams said people "should be shot" at Eastern Health?

    • Grandma
      April 19, 2013 - 08:31

      While I don't agree that Gerry Rogers should apologize for something she was not aware of, I do believe she should have denounced the person responsible for the comments and cancelled her connection to the group. We can have differences in politics and in private life, but the kind of hatred expressed on that sight is what fuels violence. The seed of hatred is a fast growing weed which can only result in harm. Our goverment officials from every party are targets for those spouting venom which can result violence. Makes me wonder why anyone would enter politics.