Face[book]ing the music

Is ‘governing through silly’ the new order of the day?

If the Internet were dead, it would have been rolling in its grave last week.

Of course, the Internet is very much alive. Much as the provincial government probably wishes it were otherwise.

The Great Comic Internet Caper (I really don’t know what else to call it) was one of those events which, when it first began, seemed incredulous and ridiculous enough. But then we were all forced to watch as, to our complete and utter disbelief, those responsible proceeded to turn it into a bigger scandal than any rational person would have thought remotely possible. Instead of those involved having a giggle, blushing and moving on, they threw all caution to the wind, dug dynamited themselves a hole bottomless pit and then hurled themselves into it, cheering and waving.

I’ll spare you the sordid details, since pretty much all of Newfoundland and Labrador knows what happened, but in case you’ve been camping in the Bell Island mines for the past week, here’s a brief re-cap. Even my friends on the mainland know about it – so amazing was the sequence of events that it hit global tech news headlines as well (yay! Newfoundland and Labrador shines again).


When I first realized that this wasn’t just some very late April Fools Day prank and Justice Minister Darin King was serious about accusing Gerry Rogers of wrongdoing, my first reaction was one of panic.

‘Oh no!’ thought I. Now one is responsible for comments made by all the bizarros on Facebook groups of which one is a part through no fault of one’s own. What if…what if I’m part of a group that I don’t know about where weirdos I’ve never met are making ridiculous comments in discussion threads I’ve never read nor will ever read or participate in? Can I be held criminally responsible for things said without my knowledge by people I’ve never heard of in places I’ve never been?

Now that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador apparently considers me potentially responsible for everything that happens on the big wide Internet, I must take action immediately, I realized! And so I promptly dropped everything I was doing to go to Facebook. (An action for which I felt, for once, no guilt. I wasn’t procrastinating: I was serving justice!)

You see, with over 1,600 Facebook friends (what can I say? I like friends!) I get added to a new group or two almost every day. I pay attention to virtually none of them and, since it is too time-consuming for me (who am not even an MHA) to go in and remove myself from them, I simply ignore them. You see while the provincial government is apparently encouraging its employees to spend more and more time playing on the Internet, most of the rest of the world adopts the opposite approach.

But now that ignoring these groups is apparently a crime (according to an increasingly…bizarre…government), I’d better go and see what great conspiracies I am actually – unbeknownst to myself – a part of.

It was an enlightening experience. I discovered dozens of groups I had no idea even existed (let alone that I was a member!). Let’s see:

The Mummers Festival. That’s ok.

Save Witless Bay. Sure, why not?

Find a home for Colors!
OMG WHO’S COLORS? A terrorist??? Oh, a stray cat. Whew.

Habitat for Humanity Argentina. Argentina???

Tokyo Cybermonster. Oh right, that DJ club night I went to once. Wait now. Uh-oh. Tricky one. What if Darin King suspects me of working to bring some sort of King-Kong-esque cybermonster to stomp on Confederation Building? I’m sure a paranoiac mind that sees Gerry Rogers responsible for death threats made by somebody else she had no connection with, might also consider a Japanese cyber-raver a potential threat for importing Godzilla to Muskrat Falls.

There were other surprises. My grade seven teacher had tracked me down and added me to her “virtual classroom” (so much for graduating junior high!). NayburzwithFlavors turned out to be not an ice cream company, nor a sex party, but a media/entertainment marketing initiative. I’m part of a group that organizes Black Metal Brunches every Sunday where they serve delicious gourmet omelettes while listening to black metal. I’ve been added to a Newfoundland steampunk group (Newfoundland steampunk? Is that like Victorian cloaks and hip waders?). I’ve even been added to a group dedicated to honouring the memory and mission of Newfoundland lumberjacks. Uh…o-kay.

Well, I’m sure you get the drift. I, like all of us, am added to a dizzying array of absolutely foolish groups on an absolutely regular basis. As are we all. And we generally ignore them. Much like we ignore junk mail, spam, flyers from real estate agents and emails from Nigerian lawyers telling us we’ve inherited a million dollars.

A dangerous foolishness

The actions of the provincial government would, in any normal state of affairs, be considered so contrary to basic principles of democracy, free speech and good governance to be downright – and dangerously – authoritarian.

Thankfully – or sadly, depending on your viewpoint – such actions are so imbecilic that they simply depict our governing party as inept and pretty well disconnected from the ways and workings of the modern democratic world.

In one fell swoop, the actions of the Speaker of the House have suggested to the world that the government exists in a metaphorical technological Stone Age where they have little comprehension – and appear even frightened – of basic modern social media technology.

Can such a Speaker – and government – govern with any sense of credibility? How can the people of this province – not to mention the world – take the Speaker and the government he represents seriously, when rulings of this calibre are the order of the day?

Oh this is bad. Let’s make it worse!

Beyond all credible comprehension, the acid trip didn’t stop there. When CBC published a brilliant piece highlighting the various questionable groups that other members of the provincial cabinet belonged to, did Dunderdale and her government realize the extent of their foolishness and begin to quietly back off? No: they redoubled their efforts! In for an ounce, in for a pound, as they say. Dunderdale quickly responded with a press release announcing she’d cleaned up her Twitter account and thus was more social-media-responsible than Gerry Rogers.

Is this Kindergarten? Or PCs-in-Wonderland?

No sooner had we recovered from this news, than new breaking news emerged: the premier has deleted her Twitter account!

Has 4-20 come early this year and been expanded to a full week? I asked myself. Undaunted by rational thought, the premier defended her right to “disengage” from Twitter, Memorial University professors debated whether she could govern without it, and newspapers across the country competed against each other for the most salacious headline pertaining to the premier’s “porn fuss” (as CBC put it).

What’s next? Will the government ban CBC photographers out of fear their cameras might eat their souls? That seems to be the calibre of rational thought we’re dealing with.

The extent of this government’s chaotic blunders evoke images of the final days of so many regimes: Marie Antoinette eating cake, Nero playing his fiddle. While thousands lose their jobs and the economy crumbles, the cabinet ministers stalk opposition MPs on Facebook and the premier issues press releases announcing she’s cleaned up her Twitter account.

One would be tempted to draw the admittedly strong inference that the world has gone mad. Thankfully, it hasn’t. This is just about a very particular government which, awkwardly, is sitting in office for the next two years.

The problem presented by this farcical tragedy is two-fold. On the one hand is the ludicrousness of the provincial government’s treatment of social media. On the other however, is a fundamental issue of honourable conduct and decorum. The fact that – with so many crises facing the province, the economy and public institutions in jeopardy, and the livelihood of tens of thousands at stake – provincial ministers would be even raising issues of this triviality and silliness in the House indicates the severely skewed sense of priorities and principles of those elected to govern. We do not merely need to replace them with a government that actually understands basic modern technology. We need to replace them with MHAs who will conduct themselves honourably and bring decorum, rationality and principle back to our House of government. Last week’s fiasco has only served to strengthen the growing calls that this government stand down for election before 2015. Can Mr. Wiseman credibly remain Speaker of the House after a nationally-condemned gaffe of this magnitude? Can a government that persecutes each other over Facebook activity while Rome burns maintain public confidence? Can Premier Dunderdale govern without a Twitter account?

Only time will tell.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go add Minister Darin King to the NDP Facebook group.

Just cuz I can.

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