UK Politics

Should MPs be able to privatise their social media accounts?

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Labour’s MP for Canterbury, Rosie Duffield, locked her Twitter account on October 15 2020, in response to the backlash she began to receive after a spat with LGBT+ site PinkNews. The site criticised the elected official over comments made concerning her views on trans rights and the increasingly toxic battleground the MP has waded into. While locking her account was likely triggered by the onslaught the MP has faced, is it appropriate for her to prevent anyone but her 32,600 followers from seeing her posts? Should the verified accounts of public officials remain completely open on social media?

Social media, in the capacity as a Member of Parliament, is an extension of their role as a conduit for their constituents. Some may enjoy following their MP for information on local initiatives, while others find out important parliamentary news from social media accounts. By locking her account, Duffield is essentially barring many of those who elected her to represent them from communicating with her. This would be akin to leaving strict entry requirements at the door to her constituency surgery.

The argument for whether MPs and others in the public eye should be able to block so-called ‘trolls’ has raged for years. While trolling once meant to be deliberately causing trouble via an anonymous social media account, it is now used to anyone who so much as critiques those in the public eye. To be blocked by an MP simply for critiquing their views – and their ability to act as a representative in an objective and reasoned manner – seems childish.

Locking an account and blocking people is understandable for MPs such as Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who received so much abuse on Twitter that it skewed the findings on overall MP abuse across social media. Blocking faceless profiles who threaten violence is one thing, but shutting out the world because they’re holding you to account on your personal opinions as an elected official is something else entirely.

Duffield is happy to air her views in The Times and publicly back controversial author JK Rowling, but any response to this public airing is met with the block button. Part of being an MP is being accountable to their ‘shareholders’ – i.e. the public. Not only does Duffield represent the people of Canterbury (not just those who voted for her), but the Labour party at large. She’s therefore accountable to those who make up her direct constituency and her party. By replying to an argument with a block on social media she is unable to accurately complete her job.

Duffield may reinstate her Twitter account within the day, achieving a mild reprieve from those who wish to respond to her piece in The Times. But the power that she wields by blocking people from seeing her public persona on social media is anything but acceptable behaviour for an elected official. If Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott can weather the storm of vitriol based merely on them being themselves, Rosie Duffield can answer for and defend her opinions. For someone apparently so silenced, she sure does make quite the stir.

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