Namecalling hides issue of more importanceCalling someone you disagree with a “Nazi” is always a bad idea. But a more critical question of free speech was buried in controversy recently after Rep. Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown, made her statement about Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo.
Calling someone you disagree with a “Nazi” is always a bad idea. But a more critical question of free speech was buried in controversy recently after Rep. Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown, made her statement about Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo.
According to Haak’s original post, or tweet, on the social network Twitter, Carlson had spoken to her during the recess and told her she was “not allowed to tweet things that are happening on the floor.” That’s where Haak used the hashtag “#nazi” in her tweet describing what had happened.
A legislator is a legislator 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in public, lawmakers must always speak responsibly whether those sentences are limited to the 140 characters of a tweet or not.
Flinging around the word “Nazi” shouldn’t be done lightly, as it carries connotations of genocide, racism and megalomania along with political extremism, and Haak was unquestionably wrong to do it.
Worse, because she did, no one has publicly questioned Carlson’s alleged demand that she stop tweeting from the floor.
The speaker of the House of the North Dakota House of Representatives sets the rules of decorum each session, and in this session there are 21 of them. Not one of them mentions Twitter, nor any other social media. There aren’t even any rules about Internet usage — just one that states “Cell phones must be turned off/muted while the House is in session.”
Twitter and other social media such as Facebook are communication tools like any other.
They can be used positively to get people involved in politics. If a legislator uses them to keep constituents informed of a bill’s progress, take public notes on legislative process or even give opinions about ongoing debate as it occurs, those tools are great.
Of course, social media can also be used for name-calling and political mudslinging, too, but when that happens, the blame rests on the tweeter, not Twitter.
Legislators should be allowed to use social media to communicate with the public while on the floor, provided they adhere to the same rules of decorum that apply to people using laptops and cellphones.
(Editorials are the opinion of Jamestown Sun management and the newspaper’s editorial board)