Lawmakers are wrong to rely on bubble

Raise your hand if you’ve been blocked on social media by an elected official.

If my feed is any indication, quite a few Iowa hands just flew into the air.

“My friend, so I thought, Rep. (Name Removed), deleted me as a friend on Facebook last night. I was having an open and civil discussion about the collective bargaining bill and he began deleting comments from myself and other state employees,” wrote one poster.

Another note read, “Rep. (Name Removed) is blocking anyone that tags him on Twitter.” The representative’s Twitter account was deleted shortly afterward.

Several other examples exist — 45 at my last count — but these two suffice.

Social Media Photo Illustration
(Social Media Photo Illustration by Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Maybe some of this deleting and blocking is warranted. After all, social media isn’t known for its good graces. People are naturally concerned about legislation that’s been fast-tracked in the General Assembly — especially those who will be personally, negatively impacted by the bills — and emotions can run high.

As someone who works in the public’s view and who regularly receives comments intended to shock or insult, I understand the desire to turn down the volume. There have been times when I’ve had to walk away or turn off notifications. After a few days, issues usually resolve themselves.

In fact, after three years at The Gazette, I’ve refused to interact with or listen to only two people. One engaged only with personal attacks — more than two years of them before I hit the block button. The other threatened my daughters.

So, yes, working with the public — especially an angry public — can be time-consuming and uncomfortable. But if you agree to take a job writing opinion columns for the paper or serving in the Statehouse, you inherently agree to also work with people who may not always be happy with you.

And, let’s face it, unlike elected officials, I have no authority to make my opinions the law of the land.

During the recent Statehouse debate on family planning funding I tweeted, “Really distressing how many #IAlegis members say they rely on self-created & self-maintained social media echo chambers for policy decisions.”

Reading so many posts detailing how Iowans are being blocked by their elected officials makes this trend even more disturbing.

Perhaps it explains why Republican-controlled state government saw fit to set aside federal family planning money and set up a new state-funded program for the sole purpose of excluding health providers that also offer abortion services. Lawmakers backing the bill erroneously insisted they had support from a majority of Iowans, and a few turned to the social media posts on their feeds as evidence.

Even as the debate raged and the falsehood was repeated, 77 percent of state residents reported they support continued funding for Planned Parenthood and similar providers.

When you’re willfully and purposefully surrounding yourself with only like-minded opinions and refusing to interact with all the Iowans you represent, the will of the people can easily be discarded as an item on some other person’s social media feed.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on February 18, 2017. Photo credit: Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette