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Mark Johnson: Politicians need to kick their social media habit

Commentary

Politicians need to kick the habit. Smoking? No. Social media. Just like smoking, the costs are too great for politicians to continue their addiction. The tweets and posts may give them a quick, cheap high but it’s killing them in the long run.

And sometimes, the short run is no better. Just ask the former Liberal candidate for MLA in Chatham-Kent-Leamington, who was dropped by the party last week for using a gay slur on Facebook. The candidate was 15 years old when he made the post.

In its early days, social media was a revolutionary tool to connect, persuade, and mobilize supporters. It was cool. Now cranky, crude, and toxic, it no longer holds its original promise of establishing a high quality, direct connection among people for knowledge sharing and positive engagement. Social media has now become a scourge on Canada’s political class.

Much has been written about its deleterious effect on its addicted users, particularly teens.“Research shows that teenagers’ use of social media goes hand in hand with increased teen depression and lower levels of life satisfaction. The frequency of a teen’s use of social media has a clear correlation to how they feel.” https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teens-social-media-addiction/ And much too has been written about its polarizing impact on wider political debate.Social media is making a bad political situation worse Let’s focus on a narrower point–the tendency of politicians to self-sabotage by their own foolish musings and by voluntarily subjecting themselves to online abuse.

Politicians have been using social media for almost twenty years but that doesn’t mean they need to keep using it. They should ask themselves this: what’s the upside now? Looking back, the results are in: ruined political careers; destroyed reputations; a non-stop invitation to trolls, with little to no upside gain in quality voter engagement.

Your voters aren’t reading your tweets

When I ran for Parliament in Toronto in 2021, I had no social media accounts. I didn’t have the time or the inclination to continuously post high-quality content or even the banal stuff. It didn’t matter. I doubt the local voters would have even noticed if I did. Unless you’re at Obama or Trump levels of followers, no one cares about a politician’s innermost thoughts blasted out on the internet.

When I was out door-knocking, people cared about the national party’s position on the larger, tangible issues, such as vaccine mandates. Others just wanted to turf the Liberals no matter what—a general comment—or didn’t trust us Tories to possess modern values—another general comment. And they wanted to take my measure as a person talking to them on their front steps. Did I know the neighbourhood? Why am I running? No one asked about my social media or lack thereof. They cared about real-world results and kitchen table issues.

Research and hard-won experience have shown that the conversation on Twitter doesn’t reflect what people are actually talking about. In his path to the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden ignored several social media “scandals” and voters were as uninterested as he was. They made him the nominee and, eventually, the president.

It’s no longer effective

The required immediacy of a post or tweet mitigates thought and analysis, which is what we need from our politicians. No decent politician can communicate with a 280-character limit; it isn’t enough space to add balance or qualifiers to a message. Users are forced to write something short and sharp, hence the unfinished thought, the offense, the snarkiness, and vitriol.

And there are better ways to communicate with your audience, at least the audience you care about. Twitter and Facebook are now echo chambers of politicians, journalists, and self-appointed activists, bickering with each other in a screeching feedback loop of tweets, posts, nasty replies, and blocks, all to no avail. A degrading 24/7 mud wrestling match for likes and shares and the bragging that comes with being blocked by someone who hates you online. It’s a cacophony that everyone has tuned out, like a dozen dogs barking all at once.

Social media is now only a direct connection to, and mobilizer of, those who have already self-selected as loving you or hating you. For the former, you’ve already got them. For the latter, the trolls who pounce on your every word, why subject yourself to that nonsense? It’s not worth it. Politicians won’t win any new converts. People follow the people they already like and insult those they already dislike. It’s just a platform for confirmation bias and petty amusement for both extremes on the spectrum.

Maybe Elon Musk can turn Twitter around4 Things Elon Musk Wants to Change at Twitter and maybe Mark Zuckerberg can do the same at Facebook but let’s face it. Twitter and Facebook are the political equivalents of the writing on the bathroom wall above the urinals. Walk away

Once looked upon as a useful tool for promoting a personal brand, social media may now be the instant destroyer of it. The only attention-getters are the career-ending social media foul-ups. How many politicians have lost their jobs or reputations because of an ill-advised, impulsive, or poorly written tweet? The list is lengthy and growing. It might be best to keep your innermost thoughts, at least the immediate ones, to yourself until you can process them a bit more. It’s one thing to be taken down by a scandal involving sex, gambling, drugs, or booze, with their tinges of excitement and indulgence. But to be taken down by a tweet? It’s not worth the risk.

The love-hate relationship

A love-hate relationship, psychologically speaking, is defined by simultaneous or alternating emotions of love and hate. Fits the case perfectly here.

Political leaders cannot lament the nastiness of political life but then shovel time, energy, and money into the very mechanisms that exacerbate it. If you play hockey, you can’t complain about being bodychecked. If you’re on social media, you can’t complain about the trolls. They come with the territory. It’s part of the game. If you don’t like it, quit

Facebook was the hippest company on Earth. It might now be the most investigated.the facebook files It now stands credibly accused of misinformation, manipulation, privacy leaks, spreading fake news and online hate, being a stooge of Russian intelligence, and even fomenting genocide in Burma. If political leaders care about promoting good corporate citizenship, as they loudly proclaim, then they should take a principled stand by deleting their Facebook accounts and withdrawing their millions in advertising.

Deani Van Pelt: Growing independent schools show the value of educational pluralism

Commentary

Independent school enrolments are on the rise in Canada. And Ontario, with a dramatic enrolment increase over recent years, is certainly no exception.

Elementary and secondary independent school enrolments in Canada increased by more than 21 percent from 2006-07 to 2019-20 (rising from 351,408 to 425,679 students), according to the most complete comparable data from Statistics Canada.Number of students in elementary and secondary schools, by school type and program type At the same time, enrolments in public elementary and secondary schools in the country rose by less than 2 percent (from 4,882,290 to 4,975,797 students).

Consider Ontario, the province educating more students than any other and a leading province for independent school enrolment increases. Over the 14-year period ending in 2019-20 StatCan data show a 34 percent increase in students attending independent schools, climbing to more than 153,291 students.Number of students in elementary and secondary schools, by school type and program type 

As is the case with the national picture, this provincial growth is dramatic, perhaps even more so when one considers that over the same period, public school enrolments in Ontario declined by more than 2 percent (from 2,103,465 to 2,056,059 students). 

Worth further investigation as well is the extraordinary growth over the same 14 years in Saskatchewan (where independent school enrolments almost tripled), Prince Edward Island (nearly doubled), and New Brunswick (more than 50 percent growth).

The growth trend pre-Covid is remarkable. 

But how have enrolments changed during the pandemic?

Since the StatCan data do not yet include the most recent years, available data for a subset of Ontario schools can be used.

Enrolment data for the 84 schools affiliated with an association of independent schools, Edvance, show that from one pandemic year to the next, that is from 2020-21 to 2021-22, enrolments increased from 15,130 to 16,435 students—an 8.6 percent increase in enrolment over a single year, from the last school year to this current one. 

Most, but not every school affiliated with the association experienced growth. Further analysis showed that 81 percent of affiliate schools grew and fully 30 percent of the 84-school subset saw over 15 percent growth in enrolments. Of the five schools that showed a decline of more than 15 percent in enrolments, it was observed that almost all of them were small elementary schools located in small centres where populations number less than 30,000 and attrition could most likely be explained by the choice to home educate.

Another indicator of growth in the independent school sector is growth in the number of schools. Again, take Ontario as an example. From one pandemic school year to the next, 2020-21 to 2021-22 (using ministry data from June 2021 and from April 2022), the number of independent schools grew from 1,506 to a record-breaker of 1,576, a 4.6 percent increase. This is on top of 7.3 percent growth the previous year, the first year of the pandemic.

Indeed, growth in the number of independent schools in recent years is staggering. 

Ten years ago there were 954 independent schools in Ontario.A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada With the Ministry of Education list from April 2022 showing 1,576 independent schools, this is an astonishing 65 percent growth in the number of independent schools in a single decade. 

One in four schools in Ontario (24.9 percent) is now an independent school (about 4,833 of the province’s 6,409 schools are public schools).Education Facts, 2020-2021

Recall that an independent school operates within government regulatory parameters and typically receives government funding. The distinction from a so-called public school is that it is not operated by the government but rather by an independent non-profit board or operator.  

This is educational pluralism. And it is on the rise in Canada.

Ontario is a shocking example in that it (and the Atlantic provinces) is unique among most of the world as the independent school sector operates without any provincial government education funding. 

Yet more independent schools are opening. More families are choosing them.

What might this mean for a provincial government interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, in education reform? 

With educational pluralism the global trend, and Canadian provinces now clear exemplars of that trend, it is time to take a closer look at the types of schools being opened. It is time to start asking—with a lot of curiosity—what is on offer there that has the attention of growing numbers of innovators, entrepreneurs, communities, educators, and families. 

If we are to reform education in our provinces so that all students can flourish and contribute, the first stop for sincere inquiry into education innovation should be the independent school sector.