The Problem with Anti-Social Media

(March 23, 2016)

Winnipeg city council is to debate a motion about composting today. The real problem is not what to do with our waste, but our approach to decision-making.

What drives the system these days seems to be the amount of electronic chatter — much of it from the usual suspects — on both sides of any issue. Councillors seem more attuned to their Twitter than to their better judgment, twisting in the electronic wind to catch the direction of the prevailing public opinion.

It becomes a crude form of advocacy, lighting up the phone tree or triggering the email avalanche to get your way — a chorus of the cranky, all mobilized to tilt the balance in the direction your group thinks everyone should go.

Because no one is really steering the ship, it becomes a competition to see who can grab the wheel and turn it in their favourite direction whenever a decision needs to be made.

The louder the voice, the stronger the opinion and the more likely it will be heard. It turns political decision-making into a referendum of the rudest — who will make the most trouble if they lose? — and not an exercise in wisdom or sober judgment on the part of our elected officials.

As a result, there has been no vision for the sustainable development of the city, nor any overall plan for the future that survives contact with the evidence. Whatever urban planning has been done is often disregarded in practice — perhaps because the electronic wind of criticism has blown in a few cranky tweets or emails.

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