There’s been something of a debate buzzing as to whether or not city councillors in Edmonton should tweet during council meetings. In a recent article on CBC.ca, Councillor Kerry Diotte was quoted as saying:
“This is a good way to keep the public informed directly and I’ve had a really good response to it.”
I think the councillor is correct — there’s a definitely value to receiving key council information directly from the city, and in real time. However, in the context of one of the last council meetings, Diotte wasn’t occasionally firing out a tweet about interesting discussion items. It was more like he was live-tweeting the council meeting. Live-tweeting a public meeting is not — and should not be — the province of an elected official.
While Diotte tweeted his thoughts and shared information about that meeting, I was following at least two other people — non-councillors — who were doing the same, and they were doing it just as well as Diotte, if not better. These citizen reporters, such as they are, were providing updates over Twitter to those who could not listen to or watch the city’s council live feed (which you can check out by visiting Council on the Web). There’s certainly some value in this.
However, real-time updating of events in council is a role that should be filled by viewers of, not participants in, a city council meeting. If Edmonton city council truly believes in the value of live-tweeting council meetings, they should tag a communications official in city administration with the responsibility, rather than have a councillor, whose role is to listen and contribute to the meeting, do the updating.
I don’t mean to harp on Mr. Diotte, but I suspect his previous work as a journalist compelled him to report on such matters. But Mr. Diotte isn’t a reporter anymore. He’s on the other side, now, and his role has changed. If he and his fellow councillors want to be (and be seen as) effective, they need to take their council-meeting duties seriously. That means, even if they can effectively split their attention between the meeting and Twitter, understanding the optics of doing both at the same time (hint: optics of such aren’t great).
It’s a question of what people want in their city councillors: representatives who listen and speak their views and ask the right questions in council; or representatives who tweet the views of others who are speaking in council.
I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion on this, as I know a lot of you are going to disagree with me. Let’s discuss in the comments!