There is a serious story here about an elected official blocking users on Twitter. There’s also a bit of Twitter drama. And, there’s an important debate about what municipalities can and should be doing to combat global climate change.

We start with the Twitter drama.

Turns out, getting blocked on Twitter is sadly uneventful. No notification email. No jarring popup as you log on to Twitter. Just some subtle signs. I noticed I hadn’t seen anything in my timeline from @_emilynorton in a bit. And, when I tried to add her handle to a tweet, @_emilynorton didn’t show up in my type-ahead list. I dug a little deeper and got the Keytar Bear and the cold reality of how much City Councilor Emily Norton values our Twitter interactions. Apparently, not as much as I do.

To the extent that I interact with Councilor Norton on Twitter, probably half of my @_emilynorton mentions are retweets that sincerely endorse her positions. She and I are highly aligned on a lot of progressive causes, including most of the environmental positions she stakes out. I’m happy to retweet her to my dozens, nay scores of followers.

(I’d show an example or two, but those retweets don’t show up in my thread anymore, because, well, Councilor Norton blocked me.)

The other half of my @_emilynorton mentions won’t surprise regular readers who a) are aware that I am pro-housing and Councilor Norton is rather-less-pro-housing and b) have read my unsparing criticism of her positions. Adding housing density is the single biggest positive impact on climate change that a town or city can have, especially one, like Newton, in the first suburban ring and served by transit. Councilor Norton’s strong resistance to greater density stands in stark contrast to her otherwise nearly* impeccable environmental leadership. So, I have retweeted many of the pro-density tweets that come my way and cc: @_emilynorton in the hopes that she reads the thread or the article linked and comes to appreciate how environmentally harmful her anti-density position is.

By blocking me, Councilor Norton is missing out on my considerable ability to help her spread the word on many of the important issues she champions and she’s shutting herself off from information that might make her question her resistance to housing development. Sad and slightly worrisome.

But, much more concerning is the implications for transparency. An elected government official has blocked someone who vocally disagrees with her from viewing her public comments. That’s troubling. Another elected official who doesn’t like to be criticized on Twitter and blocks those who do is the subject of a First Amendment lawsuit. Not good company for someone whose Twitter banner features a Martin Luther King quote about the arc of justice.

I reached out to Councilor Norton for comment. What follows is the complete email chain:

Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 6:30 PM
To: Emily Norton <[email protected]>

I noticed today that you’ve blocked me on Twitter. That’s troubling. I’ve drafted a V14 post discussing your blocking me.

Before I post, would you like to make a statement? If so, I’ll add it to the post. 

I’ll hold the post until tomorrow afternoon or until you reply

Thanks.

Sean

Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 6:33 PM
To: Sean Roche <[email protected]>
I block people for being waaaaay less jerky than you Sean!

When responding, please be aware that the Massachusetts Secretary of State has determined that most email is public record and therefore cannot be kept confidential.

Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 6:35 PM
To: Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Seriously, anger management. You should consider it.

Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 6:36 PM
To: Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Or maybe AA? 
 

Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 6:40 PM
To: Sean Roche <[email protected]>
In fact feel free to share this whole exchange! Or never mind, I will after you post it.

Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 6:54 PM
To: Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Which would you prefer? 

If you do comment, please do include an example of my being “jerky.” I know I don’t shy away from snark here or there, but I do try to stick to your positions and not attack you personally. As, say, compared to accusing someone of being an alcoholic. 😉

Have a nice weekend.

Sean

Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 7:03 PM
To: Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Your anger comes from somewhere. Perhaps it’s a cry for help. I know people with alcohol problems. They have a lot of anger. 

Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 7:24 PM
To: Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Would you prefer that I include your thoughts in the post or will you comment?
Thanks.

Sean

Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 7:44 PM
To: Sean Roche <[email protected]>
I do not care. Done emailing you

Sean Roche <[email protected]>
Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 8:12 PM
To: Emily Norton <[email protected]>
Thanks for your time.

Sean

— 

You know, I think Councilor Norton is onto something. I tried to keep this post reasonably light-hearted. But, I am angry. I’m angry at public officials who have no sense of urgency about climate change that is ruining the planet for our children. I’m angry at environmental hypocrites. And, I’m specifically angry that a woman who has (legitimately) earned a platform to advocate about climate change is in denial about the social and environmental justice of increasing housing and is using that well-earned platform to spread the denial.

That said, I can’t help but being amused by a woman accusing me of being “jerky” and then, three minutes later, unprompted, insinuating that I have a substance abuse problem. 

*I’m not sure that she is as eager to reduce car traffic as I would hope, but I just don’t know.







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