Politicians and social media faux-pas

The Liberal and Conservative parties have reacted in very different ways to vitriolic comments made by their candidates.

Ala Buzreba
Last week a Liberal Party candidate in Calgary resigned from the race after it was revealed that she had made some rather vitriolic comments on Twitter four years earlier. Ala Buzreba was 17 when she became engaged in some heated exchanges on the social network, telling one person that “your mother should have used that coat hanger” and another person she considered to be racist that they should “go blow your brains out you waste of sperm.”

After initially apologizing “without reservation” for the comments, the 21-year-old Buzreba went a step further shortly after, stepping down as a candidate because: “The discussion shouldn’t be focused on me and my tweets, but rather it should be about what’s best for Canadians.”

Contrast that with the reaction of a 30-year-old Conservative Party candidate in the riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Wiliam Moughrabi, whose recent Facebook posts included a misogynistic video (here) and violent statements like “Karma takes too long. I’d rather beat the shit out of you now.”

While Buzreba was the focus of national attention, Moughrabi was quietly killing his Facebook account, candidacy page and Twitter account after an anonymous anti-Tory political blog dug up the dirt and started posting screenshots of the comments. There was no official reaction from Moughrabi until his local newspaper grilled him on it a few days later. Acknowledging he had made the comments, Moughrabi admitted to the Courrier Ahuntsic/Bordeaux-Cartierville the posts were “inappropriate and could have affected or offended some people. That was not my intention.” Claiming the violent quotes were taken out of context (while failing to provide a context in which the quotes might be deemed acceptable), he added, ridiculously, “it’s unfortunate that my name continues to be associated with these statements.”


So while a 30-year-old Conservative political candidate laments that he is still associated with violent and sexists posts he made as recently as last summer and issues a lame apology because his comments “could” have been offensive to “some” people, a Liberal candidate takes full responsibility for angry comments she made four years earlier as a teenager, saying her youth was no excuse, and resigns because she recognizes her past indiscretions are distracting from debate over important policy issues.

Compare and contrast.


Should politicians be held accountable for online indiscretions? That’s the big debate these days as the ubiquitous presence of social media means that an impetuous statement made in the heat of an argument is no longer a semi-private affair. Twitter this week has even gone so far as to block the ability of the Politwoops site and others to track the deleted tweets of politicians, supposedly out of a concern for freedom of expression.

“Imagine how nerve-racking — terrifying, even — tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice,” Twitter officials wrote to justify the decision to the Open State Foundation, which runs Politwoops in 30 countries, including Canada.

But we’ve been told for years now that we should all be treating our online activities as immutable and irrevocable, and the Moughrabi and Buzreba cases illustrate how true that dictum has become. Even though Moughrabi deleted his Facebook comments, he wasn’t able to erase them from existence because the blogger who exposed him had taken screen grabs.

These are, after all, public statements, so there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. And in the case of public figures and people in positions of authority, it is essential that they be held accountable for such statements, regardless of when or in what circumstances they were made.

Those who defend the idea that there there should be some kind of immunity for youthful indiscretion or impetuous outbursts on social media are missing the point. Yes, these kinds of mistakes and missteps are human and we’ve all made them. But when the people who made them are holding — or hope to hold — positions of public trust, it is essential that they be accountable for those mistakes and share with us the lessons they have learned from them.

That is the difference between taking responsibility for your actions vs. covering them up. It’s the difference between Buzreba and Moughrabi, between redemption and evasion. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.