Josh MatlowCity Hall Diary
Now that I’ve been a city councillor for three months, it’s time to confess something I’ve only recently been able to admit to myself.
I am a Twitter addict.
I faintly remember a time when if something interesting happened in my life I would rush to tell my wife about it. I still do, but now I include thousands of my closest friends. And like most highly functioning addicts, I find comfort in knowing that I am not alone.
Twitter is a social media website that allows its 200 million users to write 140 character comments known as “tweets.” Many of Toronto’s city councillors are on Twitter. And like my colleagues, I use it to be accessible, promote initiatives I care about, announce events and, perhaps too often, share whatever happens to be on my mind.
Similar addictions began affecting politicians over a hundred years ago.
At the turn of the 20th century, candidates seeking public office were obsessed with speaking atop soapboxes. In the 1920s, most politicians were hooked on radio, or being “on air.” Then, in 1960, John F. Kennedy discovered that his presidential campaign was bolstered by appearing in a televised debate. After that, he, along with every politician who came after, never saw a TV camera he (or she) didn’t like. Today, it’s Twitter. And it’s very likely you’ll find politicians tweeting at any hour of the day.
Twitter can also be a wonderful tool for engaging the public in the democratic process.
I recently tweeted with a midtown resident about our shared interest in establishing a Toronto Heritage Museum. Since then, we’ve met in person and have continued discussing the idea. And rather than writing media releases, I tweet. I post updates on the results of votes at council and report on unusual situations I find myself in, such as last week’s OCAP protest at City Hall. I also enjoy exchanging thoughts, ideas, and friendly banter with everyone from residents in my ward to fellow city councillors. My colleague Sarah Doucette recently shared via Twitter that she makes her own marmalade, and Scarborough councillor Paul Ainslie seems to tweet his life like taking minutes of a meeting.
Have you ever heard a municipal election candidate tell you that he or she will “bring your voice” to city council? Twitter can be used to actually make that happen. There have been council meetings where I’ve tweeted a question about an agenda item to over 1,600 people and received instant responses from constituents. At that moment, the public is virtually sitting in council with me.
I begin every morning by checking Twitter on my BlackBerry while enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee — my other vice. I follow tweets from media outlets such as the Toronto Star to stay up to date with the news. I also follow influential people, like Mayor Rob Ford to find out if he’s tweeted a policy announcement that may or may not come to council for a vote.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s. At last count, he had ?????? Twitter followers.
To read this column at thestar.com, please click here