Victoria mayor deletes Facebook because it 'rewards anger and outrage'
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, March 25, 2018 9:09AM EDT
The mayor of British Columbia's capital says she's deleting Facebook because it's no longer a space for healthy dialogue.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who has actively engaged with constituents online since she was elected in 2014, said she deleted her Facebook account on Friday.
"There's example after example after example where I'll post something like, 'new fire hall,' or 'this amazing community event is happening.' And five comments in, it starts to become about something completely other than what the actual post is about and people yelling at each other on my page."
Helps said the new vitriol and anger she sees expressed online seems to be bleeding into wider arenas. At a recent town hall meeting, a man yelled at a city staff member until the staff member broke down, Helps said. Although she doesn't know if the man uses Facebook, she said it seemed representative of a larger erosion of civil discourse.
"I think Facebook legitimizes that kind of behaviour. Facebook rewards anger and outrage. The more anger and outrage you express, the more shares you're going to get," Helps said.
Constituents can continue to contact her by email, cell phone, text, office line, Messenger, Twitter, Instragram, at community drop-in sessions and more, she said.
Chris Cochrane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto who specializes in political disagreement, said he isn't surprised by Helps' move.
"Why do these platforms seem to fail so spectacularly for civil disagreement? The best hypothesis I can come up with is there's something fundamentally dehumanizing about disagreeing in a setting where you don't interact with a person, you don't actually see them face to face," Cochrane said.
Political disagreement generally lends itself to tribalism and that's more pronounced on social media platforms, which can act as echo chambers of opinion, he said.
"When you meet someone in an interpersonal interaction and you're actually speaking with them, you see them right in front of you as a human being. You may immediately recognize certain similarities between them and yourself, you might have small talk before hand," Cochrane said.
"But on social media ... It's you trying to motivate and follow your tribe or your group and you're against these other tribes and other groups."
Cochrane has also deleted his Facebook account.
Helps' move came as Facebook faced a backlash following allegations that private data from 50 million of its users was improperly harvested by a voter-profiling company to help seal victories for Donald Trump's presidential campaign in the U.S. and in the U.K.'s Brexit referendum.
Speaking to reporters last week in New Brunswick, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberals will continue to use social media as a way of connecting with people and getting their message out.
But he insisted they will always do it responsibly and he's calling on internet companies to act responsibly as well, while sidestepping a question on whether the Liberals would use Facebook data to target voters in the 2019 election campaign.
Reports by The Canadian Press last week forced the Liberals to disclose that in 2016 their caucus research bureau awarded a $100,000 pilot project to the Canadian data scientist at the centre of the international uproar over Facebook users' data being inappropriately mined for political gain.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said news of bots and data mining for political gain raise questions about data privacy, adding that she'd be in favour of a national survey on the topic.
"What does data privacy or ownership mean to the Canadian public? And what's the government's role in that regard? That's something we just have not talked about in Canada in any kind of cohesive way," she said.
In terms of civil discourse, Rempel said any time you put an idea forward, especially in a political context, debate is expected. There's a difference between fundamentally disagreeing with someone and threatening them with violence or hate speech. And there are legal channels to deal with the latter, she said.
Rempel has previously spoken publicly about the harassment and sexist comments she has received online, but said she never considered leaving social media.
"I can't imagine not using social media. It would be akin to taking my voice away, at this point. I reach hundreds of thousands of people from my phone -- that's not something I can replace with television or a town hall," Rempel said.
"I'm not even sure you can be a politician in Canada today and not have a social media presence. It would almost be like functioning without a tool that's at your disposal to promote public discourse."