Despite his experience within the party, however, Scheer is still relatively unknown beyond the Conservative base, and he was not expected to win, even as the votes were revealed during the Conservative convention; many, like me, expected him to end in second and to vie for the leadership in a few years once he had established a larger profile on the Canadian political scene. Scheer did not win until the thirteenth and final ballot over his primary competitor, Quebec libertarian Maxime Bernier, and he did so with a narrow margin - 50.95% - which was only slightly higher than that of the proportion of Quebecers who voted to stay in Canada in the 1995 referendum (50.58%) and slightly lower than the number of voters in the UK who voted to leave Britain last year (51.89%).
So, it was not necessarily a decisive win, but a win is a win, and Scheer is now the party's leader. For what it's worth, I think that choosing Scheer as leader is an intriguing decision that signals the party's continued devotion to its western base and social conservatism, and I think that he has one of the higher possibilities for a positive outcome for the future of Canada within the field of candidates, at least from my perspective outside the party.
I will be interested to see how Scheer leads the Tories through the 2019 election, which seems like it will be very difficult for them to win against Justin Trudeau (who nevertheless seems to be doing his best to be Canada's first Prime Minister to serve only one term with a majority government and no subsequent minority governments since Conservative R.B. Bennett in the Great Depression), and the subsequent 2023 election, which might be the target on which the Conservatives seem to have their sights set by electing him in the first place.
That's the joke
But regardless of Scheer's policies (which were scant during his leadership campaign) or his potential electability (which is arguably higher than any of the other Conservative leadership canadidates), there is one significant criticism that has emerged throughout Scheer's rise to power: many Canadians do not know who he is. In response to this critique, as well as to the general "whiteness" of culture of the Conservative Party (a topic that could take a long time on its own to unpack, but that I will merely mention in passing here), The Beaverton - Canada's version of The Onion - posted this article in response to Scheer's victory.
I laughed out loud, particularly at the part about how Conservatives were too cheap to pay the money to remove the watermark, and so I posted a link to the article on my Twitter, which in turn automatically posts to my Facebook page. I did not think much of posting it, other than a number of people would chuckle and move on - but then it started.
There were initially a trickle of likes and comments from some of the usual suspects, including a couple of comments to which I responded. But then, the post started to take on a life of its own. Within a couple of days, there were over fifty comments on the thread, and they varied from people debating the racial implications of the article to the merits of our current Prime Minister to whether the joke was funny at all to correcting the assumption of the article by writing out Scheer's accomplishments as a parliamentarian.
By the third day, I had friends messaging me about what was going on, which is generally the point at which it seems that most people disengage and leave it behind, which I did. It seemed to be finished anyway, but I was left with a distaste about how the whole situation has unfolded, which is partly why I felt the need to work through and express my thoughts in its wake.
It was all kind of tiresome by the end, and as has happened in previous instances in which this kind of firefight has erupted on my wall, I went from being amused by the goings-on to slightly apprehensive about what was happening to just plain exhausted by the whole distraction. But, along the way, I had a few thoughts about political discourse, social media, and cultivating the combination of those two that I felt that I needed to share in the wake of this unexpected storm on my wall, so here are those thoughts in much longer form than what Facebook could provide.
The problem of political discourse
I do not often wade into politically partisan waters online, and circumstances like this provide good reason to avoid such diversions. It seems as though there is only a downside to posting political things, with little to no benefit in doing so. In this case, the intended positive effect was to make some people laugh - and I do know that a number of people had a good laugh according to their "reaction" on Facebook - but I ended up in a situation in which I was genuinely concerned about how a few people were reacting. What started as a joke - and had no reason not to stay that way - ended as something more serious, which is a big part of the problem.
I got myself into a couple of similar situations last year during the rise of Trump, when I posted a few articles that I found interesting. Some were pro-Clinton - though a couple were critical of her - but most of the dozen or so links I posted (over the course of eight months, mind you) were critical of Trump. There were, of course, hundreds more links that I could have posted, but I chose to only link to articles that I found particularly interesting and that I thought added to the general discourse.
A number of people, however, disagreed with me, whether that was with the conclusions that those articles were reaching or the fact that they were posted at all, and a number of those posts created similar firestorms on my wall. There were some instigators who I removed from my social media because they were being belligerent and disrespectful, but I also had a lot of really great interactions with people as a result of those posts, so despite the momentary problems that arose, I still see the overall process as valuable.
I learned my lesson (or so I thought), and so I stopped posting political things, particularly about the United States. Moreover, I eventually stopped taking in a lot of those sources in the first place because I realized that my consumption of that discourse was actually negatively affecting my daily mental health. I feel a lot better now not taking in most of that negativity, and I have found a much healthier balance in terms of staying aware of what is happening (particularly south of the border) without letting it drag me down.
That is, of course, not to assert that I want to be ignorant or that I do not want to be politically engaged; it's just that I need to curate my involvement much more carefully. I have attempted to do that, particularly in the wake of Trump, but also in regard to politics north of the border, which feel almost as contentious at times as those of our southern neighbours. I generally enjoy Canadian politics, and I do enjoy dipping my toes into the waters every so often with a post or two when something interesting comes across my metaphorical desk.
But part of the problem in this case, as I see it, was that I did not think that I was being political in sharing this post. Sure, it is pointed against a particular party, but I did not see this as a "political post"; it was a piece of satire that I wanted to share. I forgot, however, that most people do not seem to have a sense of humour about politics anymore, so nothing can ever be political and funny. (The italics are intended to help indicate a slightly sarcastic, embittered tone about this whole issue, in case you missed that.)
As an aside (or maybe not), I blame Stephen Colbert for this loss of humour, as The Colbert Report and his performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner established the new norm for political comedy. The Daily Show had started down this road, but it was Colbert's brilliant assumption of the character of a right-wing blowhard that I believe has ultimately resulted in this lack of ability for most people to appreciate political humour. He was so good at his character that people on both sides believed him, and now the lines between parody and reality have been so blurred that many people do not know how to tell the difference between the two, or they do not care to even if they do. So thanks, Stephen Colbert, for ruining political comedy; but I digress...
Perhaps part of the issue is that I do not often post openly political things, so in the rare case that I do, people seem to take me more seriously. I suppose it's not a stretch to conclude, if the only "political" post a person sees on my wall is critical of the Conservatives - regardless of how satirical or tongue-in-cheek such a post may be - that I am against the Conservative Party and that I need to be corrected. Whether there is any validity to that assumption is not the question here - it's the fact that it could conceivably be made at all that is part of the problem; the other part is that people then seem to feel the need to correct me, which is a different conversation entirely.
Still, even if that assumption is reasonable, there are still more issues that need to be addressed in regard not only to my situation(s) but about the nature of political discourse in general. Most of those may not have to do with political discourse in its entirety, but about those particular interactions that occur online through social media and Facebook in particular, which is why it's time to switch gears and talk about
My philosophy and practice of social media
Hundreds - or maybe thousands? - of thinkpieces have been written about the emerging nature of dialogue on social media, so I do not want to go too "macro" on the topic right now, but I do think that situations like this do help me to understand the very strange nature of social media and Facebook in particular, so I have a few observations from my own experience. I am certain that I have discussed some of these aspects of my personal philosophy and practice of social media before, but I feel that it merits explicit explanation here, given the context and circumstances of this post.
My wall - as is those of anyone who has a social media feed - is essentially a limited "intranet" that provides a stream of content moderated by me to a group of people whose access to that content is also moderated by me. The common point in all of this is me, so it is essentially a part of the internet that is both directly and indirectly about me. All of the people on my wall know me (to very varying extents, of course), but many of them do not know one another.
I have always tried to be more careful about not only what I post, but also what I allow on my wall in terms of style and content. I curate and moderate and often remove messages that should be sent personally from my wall. I generally avoid coarse or vulgar material and language, and I usually encourage participants on my wall to do the same for the sake of others, though I tend not to worry as much if a random profanity is included in a comment buried in a thread.
Furthermore, I am careful about my presence on other's walls and feeds, and I often do not go as far on Facebook as I would in real life in regard to use of joking and language, because I recognize that everyone's online community is different and I try to respect their space as well. I also realize that, for some people, their only understanding of who I am is through what I post on other people's feeds, so I need to be careful about cultivating those impressions (particularly because there can be professional implications for me as a teacher, especially in a community as small as Regina).
I generally try to post things that are informative and interesting and not too contentious, and there is a lot that I do not post as a result. I am not overly concerned about offending people, but I am also aware that not everyone is as self-aware of themselves online, so I do not try to start a fight if I don't have to. At the same time, there are some things that I feel the need to share, and if that means that some people choose to voice their disagreement with my point of view, I will do my best to engage them respectfully and appropriately, including through personal messages if necessary. In short, I am a responsible online citizen, and I believe that I generally model positive behaviour in the way that I conduct myself online.
The problem for me is that even though I know that not everyone has as robust a sense of self-awareness and self-control in their online interactions I still functionally make the mistake of assuming that people on my feed are generally acting in my best interests according to my principles in the way that I do with their feeds, and that is just not true. Facebook is a new frontier, a wild west in which everyone is out for themselves and few seem to be thinking of much beyond themselves. (The less said about the haven that Twitter provides for trolls, the better.) So I need to remember to adjust my expectations and assume the worst; for example, when I post an innocuous satirical post about a political leader, that a storm will rage for several days.
How to solve the problem of social media
Social media, particularly in regard to politics, is a problem that many people have tried to solve, so far be it for me to suggest that I can solve the problems that arise from the intersection of these two volatile fields. I do believe, however, that there are a few options that I, along with any other responsible online citizens, can consider as we seek to civilize the wilderness that is the internet, so I want to present those here.
I want to be aware and careful about my online content without feeling restricted or censored, and I want to be able to post things without fear that the comments are going to go crazy. I know that I could just stop posting anything that could be an issue, but I'm not a fan of censoring myself. And even if I was, I do not think that would solve the problem, since all that would do is make it worse by legitimizing the trolls. Perhaps I just need to let go of the need that I feel to moderate the conversation on my wall, and just allow those conversations to happen; then again, I probably need to do that anyway, regardless of which option(s) I take in attempting to address this issue.
I could just simply remove people who disagree with me from my social networks, but I do not want to do that; I appreciate the dialogue and the discourse too much when it is done well, so I am reticent to create an echo chamber with no conflict (if that's even possible). I want to have people who do not see the world in the same way that I do as part of my social media and my life, and I want to give them the space to see the things that I am posting that might challenge their worldview in the same way that their posts often challenge me.
I will continue to carefully moderate conversations that occur on my wall. At this point, if someone is an issue - particularly if it happens repeatedly - I initiate a private personal conversation to address the issue at hand, whether that is the content or style of the posts. These interactions have, at times, led to some very positive dialogue, but they have also led to unfriending, though I do my best not to assume and project an outcome onto the conversation before it begins.
I will continue to model positive online citizenship and to establish a higher baseline for interactions on my corner of the internet. I will not abide misconduct and disrespect, and I want to make sure that anyone who enters my online space understands my intent, my principles, and my participation on social media and in politics, which is why I have written this post. So, in an attempt to resolve this situation and perhaps dissolve similar future situations before they start, here are the guidelines that I am "officially" establishing for engaging in my online space; consider them like the classroom conduct guidelines that I establish with students to ensure that everyone is clear on expectations, responsibilities and privileges.
Guidelines for my online space
1. Consider the intention of the post. Ask yourself "is this a joke?" If it is, laugh (or don't) and move on, unless you really think there is something being written in poor taste that needs to be addressed. I generally try to be careful about the kinds of humour that I post, and I carefully consider the kinds of posts that I see as I scroll through Facebook, as well as the people who are posting such things. I generally do not engage with jokes I appreciate other than with a mild reaction or perhaps an "LOL", and I usually ignore jokes I don't appreciate; it's just easier that way.
2. Assume that I am cultivating a dialogue that is well-informed, aware, and educated. I know that this is not always the case, but you can generally assume that I have carefully considered what I am posting and why I am posting it. I generally do not post fake news or incendiary posts or items from questionable sources, mostly because I do my best to investigate and curate my links ahead of time. There are times in which I am not aware of something and in which I might post a link with faulty information in which I need to be corrected, at which point it would be appropriate to comment.
Otherwise, you can assume that I know what I am doing and that I am aware of the ramifications of the links I post and that you do not need to educate me on such things. I do recognize, however, that the same cannot be said of everyone on my feed, and that many of the comments are directed toward their perceived or expressed ignorance rather than toward me; while that can be (and often is) valid, please assume that the level of discourse is intended to be higher in content and conduct on my wall than on most of the rest of the internet swamp.
3. Do not push your agenda in my space. My wall is not your place to push your agenda; quite frankly, I do not see my wall as a place to push my own agenda, which is why I tend to avoid overtly politically and religiously loaded links in the first place. I want to engender critical thought, conversation, and consideration, rather than polemics and rhetoric. I recognize that some people will interpret what I post as being driven by a particular point of view, and I understand that they may feel the need to express an alternate point of view. I think that's great, as long as it does not become obvious that your intent is to push your agenda.
4. Use your WITS. The acronym "WITS" - which represents the process of "Walk away; Ignore; Talk it out; Seek help" - is used to teach elementary students how to deal with bullies, but I think it's just as applicable here - particularly the first two steps. Just ignore it if you can and do not engage, particularly if it seems as if someone is trolling (which, unfortunately, does happen on my page from time to time, despite my best efforts otherwise).
5. Engage respectfully and appropriately. If, after all of those other points, you still feel the need to express yourself in my space, feel free to do so, as long as you are respectful and appropriate. If you choose not to do so by my standards (not your own - it is, after all, my space), then you may be asked to stop or ultimately, to leave that space, in much the same way that I would not tolerate similar conduct in my classroom or in my house.
The problem that I have right now - and the reason that I have had to write this post in the first place - is that I do not feel as though my own space - that is, my Facebook feed - is safe for me to post my own thoughts, and that's not okay. My lack of a sense of safety within my own social media has led me to feel the need to have to write this all out very explicitly, whether it was warranted or not.
To that end, I am slightly annoyed and resentful that I felt the need to write this post at all - a tone that I realize came through a little bit more powerfully and perhaps snarkily at some points, particularly in my Guidelines. I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this entire situation, and I do not think I'm wrong in feeling that way; then again, I might just be extra sensitive and making a problem where there is not one.
So maybe I did not have to write this post in the end; maybe I am overreacting to what has happened and I needed to have one or two conversations with people who were involved in this particular altercation, rather than writing a manifesto about the situation and the nature of being political (or religious, for that matter) online. Or maybe this is just the way things are now, and I need to learn to accept it as it is, firestorms and trolls and runaway comment threads and all.
But, much like the state under President Trump, I refuse to accept that the status quo is normal; as Dr. Horrible said, "the status quo is not...quo." It is not okay that social media - not to mention the White House - is being overrun by trolls who show little respect for authority or institutions, or that common decency is no longer that common.
To be fair to the people on my feed, I don't think that many (if any) have been truly disrespectful or troll-like in their interactions, and I am extrapolating a larger problem from a small arguably not accurate sample size. But it has been present enough not only on my feed but on others' feeds that I do not feel that it is entirely out of context to express my concern in regard to my own corner of the internet.
I think that, in the end, it has been a positive thing that I have worked through this and written it out. I am choosing to be as clear as I can be at this point, and now I have an expression of philosophy and practice about politics (and religion) and social media to which I can point others as well as to which I can return in the future in case I find myself the next time I post something that sets off a similar set of reactions within my social media.
Furthermore, I can see a future in which I might become much more directed in the kinds of things that I post in contentious realms like politics and religion and in which my personal viewpoints will become more partisan and pointed, and I think that experiences like this one are invaluable for learning how to conduct myself in such circumstances. I imagine that, as both the Canadian and American elections approach in two years, the rhetoric will accelerate exponentially and that I might find myself needing to rely on the processing that I have done here to ensure that I am acting in accordance with my own wishes.
There are, of course, a number of issues that I have mentioned obliquely or even avoided entirely, such as freedom of speech, the future of the internet, the nature of political comedy, the conflation of different types of relationships as a result of social media, common decency, and the role of the government in ensuring that there is fair and equitable access to information. Some of those are topics that will require a lot more unpacking, and some are even topics that will be subject to political scrutiny and government intervention, so I'm going to leave them for another time. After all, I suppose when it comes down to it, that I could always just contact my MP about those issues...what's his name again?