PM Scott Morrison Has Blocked Lots Of People On Twitter
"It sends the wrong message if you're meant to be representing the people."
Scott Morrison has spent his first few days as Prime Minister tweeting about his policy priorities, paying tribute to the late U.S. Senator John McCain, supporting rugby and netball teams, and posting candid photos of work meetings and his family.
But dozens, if not hundreds, of people around Australia can't see them. They have been blocked on Twitter by the new PM.
"It's absolutely inappropriate. Politicians have to be exposed to all kinds of views, not just the ones that agree with them," said Jenna Price, an academic in journalism and social media at the University of Technology Sydney.
Morrison currently has 87,000 Twitter followers, and has been one of the highest-profile politicians in the country for many years in portfolios including treasury and social services. But after ten daily posted a callout on Twitter asking if other users had been blocked by the new PM, more than 100 people replied within hours, the bulk of whom claimed to have been blocked during Morrison's days as immigration minister.
It comes just days after Morrison praised outgoing deputy Liberal leader and foreign minister Julie Bishop as "a rock star" for "Twitter and Facebook".
Many people claimed to have been blocked for innocuous comments, such as criticisms of policy, or even just for retweeting posts from other users that were critical of the new PM.
Others admitted to posting abuse toward, or continually trolling, Morrison, and that they probably deserved the blocking.
"I don't think MPs should block their constituents," said Nathan who lives in Morrison's southern Sydney electorate of Cook. Nathan claimed he had been blocked in 2015 for a tweet in which he criticised Morrison over immigration detention policy.
"It didn't really bother me. The pettiness of it actually made it funnier."
Some users said the PM should mute users instead of blocking them, which would mean he wouldn't see or get notifications for their tweets, but it would still allow them to see his important tweets.
Dan, from Sydney, claimed he was blocked by Morrison on Friday, just hours before he became PM. He told ten daily he thought the blocking came after a tweet calling Morrison a "chimp", in relation to a famous press conference where then-PM Tony Abbott brushed the back of Morrison's shirt.
There's even a Twitter hashtag, #BlockedByScoMo, started by people who have been blocked over the years. Morrison is not the only Australian politician who uses the block function, with other Twitter users claiming to be blocked by Julie Bishop, George Christensen, Tony Burke and Peter Dutton, among others.
Australian politicians are increasingly using social media, particularly Twitter, to share information about new policies, important announcements or political appointments, or safety information. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull often shared videos of his press conferences, and important information about bushfire evacuations or safety updates.
Blocking someone on Twitter means they would not be able to see this content, which could potentially be very important or even life-saving.
"I think everybody has the right to hear every voice of a politician in any sense they utter publicly. Twitter is a public utterance and it would be hard ground to say some Australians shouldn't get to hear that voice," Tama Leaver, an associate professor in internet studies at Curtin University, told ten daily.
In May, an American judge ruled President Donald Trump blocking Twitter users violated their right to free speech. Leaver said Australian law does not guarantee free speech in the same way, but said Morrison -- and other Australian politicians -- blocking their constituents raised "an interesting ethical question."
"Australia doesn't have a constitutional right to speech, but we do have good practice, which would be that especially the PM should be open to all sorts of commentaries," Leaver said.
"Some small percentage of people being blocked would be genuine demonstrable trolling, and it's understandable most people have a few blocked, but it sends the wrong message if you're meant to be representing the people."
Tony Story was head of digital media for former NSW Liberal premier Mike Baird. He said his office tried to limit the number of people they blocked on Baird's official profile, generally only blocking repeated trolls or "exceptionally abusive" accounts.
"The social media account of a political leader, particularly on Twitter, can quickly become a cesspit of abuse and trolling. It’s easy to reach for the block button, but you need to balance that with the fact that this is an official communications channel for the leader," Story told ten daily.
“Yes, politicians and staffers need to have a thick skin and not let the haters get to them. But the public also need to have a look at themselves. What is it that drives them to hurl abuse at leaders they’ve never met and don’t know? What is it that makes us assume that a decision we disagree with was made with bad intent from an evil human? The truth is, some of us deserve a blocking.”
Price told ten daily politicians needed to have a thicker skin and less inclination to block.
"It speaks to the manner of the person if they can't tolerate dissent. This is a democracy," she said.
"If they're making announcements on their account, every Australian should have access to that. By all means mute people, but don't block them."
"We need to be mindful of the way we address politicians, but we also need to get them to harden up. If you can deal with Tony Abbott, you can deal with an ordinary person saying they don't agree with you."
ten daily has contacted the Prime Minister's Office for comment on Morrison's blocking policies, and whether he might reconsider now he has become PM, but is yet to hear back.