Blocking on Twitter by politicians

There’s been a lot of speculation on social media in the last few days about blocking or muting of people who have a different point of view by Twitter users who believe in Scottish independence.

I have no personal evidence of what’s going on, if anything, but clearly many people think something’s afoot, perhaps a planned closing-down of contact with people who have different views. One theory is that this is being based on the lists that Twitter users can compile (I featured briefly on one called something like ‘Britnat tw*ts’).

There’s not much anyone can do about being blocked. It’s like a conversation. If someone doesn’t want to take part or finds you irritating they walk away. And sometimes they should walk away if a protagonist is being abusive. I’ve walked away from people like that myself.

The position with our elected politicians is perhaps a little different. They also should not have to suffer abusive language. But corralling the wagons and blocking your ears just because people have a different point of view? Not sensible and difficult to justify.

Still, if they do that on their private or party accounts that’s up to them. Those who either oppose them or are at least not of the same mindset will draw their own conclusions.

The situation of elected representatives who are tweeting officially at public expense is different again. Once more, subject to the point about abuse, why should they refuse to hear from – take your pick – citizens, voters or taxpayers? The allegations (unsubstantiated yet as far as I’m concerned) that some politicians, SNP as it happens, are doing so needs some factual basis.

So in order to try and get some facts, I’ve just sent a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Government. The full text is below and you’ll see the sort of issues I’m trying to tease out. I’ve confined my request at the moment to cabinet members although it might bear extending at some stage to other ministers. According to the Scottish Information Commissioner’s website I should get an answer by 26 January. We shall see. With a bit of luck, by the end of January I’ll be able to summarise any response here that I receive and its implications.

————————————–

By e-mail to ceu@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

Dear Sir or Madam

Scottish Cabinet Member Twitter Accounts: Request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

I would be grateful if you could send me information about this subject. I have searched for it on the Scottish Government website and in your publication scheme and cannot find it. The information relates to the Twitter accounts of current cabinet members as described on your website accessed on 21 December 2014:

Cabinet Member Twitter Account 
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon  @NicolaSturgeon
Deputy First Minister, John Swinney @JohnSwinney
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment & Cities Keith Brown @KeithBrownMSP
Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills & Training,Roseanna Cunningham @strathearnrose
Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance @AConstanceMSP
Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing & Sport, Shona Robison @shonarobison
Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson @MathesonMichael
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food & Environment, Richard Loughead @RichardLochhead
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe & External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop @FionaHyslop

The hyperlinks were correct as of 21 December.

The information I request for each Twitter account is as follows and relates to the time since the First Minister announced membership of the Cabinet on 21 November.

  1. Have any civil servants or political advisors paid from the public purse (taken together I refer to these categories as ‘staff’) spent time managing or operating the account, including posting tweets on the cabinet member’s behalf?
  2. Have any staff been involved in ‘blocking’ or ‘muting’ any Twitter followers or potential followers of the account?
  3. If staff have been involved in blocking or muting followers or potential followers, how many accounts have they blocked or muted?
  4. If staff have been involved in blocking or muting, what information is stored and held in any way that instructs, guides or informs the principles upon which blocking or muting is to be carried out? Please provide a copy of the information
  5. If the answer to 1. and/or 2. is ‘Yes’ how many staff have been involved and how much time in aggregate have they spent on these activities?
  6. Is the account an official one in the sense that it is part of or related to the account holder’s duties as a cabinet member? If it is not, what policies, guidelines or other information is stored and held in some way that determines what information unrelated to their cabinet duties can be included on the Scottish Government website? Please provide a copy of the information.

I am happy to receive your response by e-mail. Should you need any further context or clarification please e-mail me or phone me on xxxxx xxxxxx. Thank you in advance for providing this information.

Yours faithfully

 

Roger White

 

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