This post was prompted by the news that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and Labour MP Kerry McCarthy (both frequent twitteres) have both broken out in a spate of blocking people on Twitter. Is it acceptable to cease to communicate with people in the onlineosphere, or is it tantamount to not accepting that your views can be challenged?
Firstly, I think its clear that if a stranger started talking to you in a shop and followed you around occasionally calling you names, and constantly denying or arguing against everything you said, then you would be justified in not wanting to be their friend. However, Twitter is not like a shop because it is there as a communication medium – you join Twitter to tweet, and to receive tweets, so you should expect a bit of back-chat.
Secondly, debate on Twitter is not really like debate elsewhere because it generally seems to happen at multiple levels of engagement, with some people taking the whole thing very seriously and other people just there to swear and make a mockery of others. But then, I think it should be accepted that most people intelligent enough to engage with Twitter are probably intelligent enough to recognise when someone is just messing around, and so to simple ignore Tweets that are of no use to anyone.
Thirdly, an MP is just a person, and they should be allowed to engage online without having to submit themselves to barrages of un-pleasantness. But actually, MPs take decisions that have enormous influence over us, so in fact they are not like anyone else, and if they do engage in online debate, then they should expect to excite huge interest and lots of opposing views. Generally they have a thick skin to insults and counter-arguments, and this should extend to Twitter.
Thus, I think that it is unreasonable for MPs in particular, but for anyone else as well, to block others in online forums like Twitter or on blog posts. As libraries engage more and more online, we as librarians will also have to accept that criticism, some of it very robust, will be directed at us. I think we have to either enjoy the benefits of being engaged online and swallow the potential nasty side of it, or become alienated and isolated.