Emailing elected officials seems almost quaint in the now-now-now world of social media, where we're used to real-time call and response. In recent weeks, hopeful signs suggest that our representatives are beginning to recognize today's communication realities — whether they want to or not.
Thin skin is not a valuable trait in a politician, nor is bad behavior in the social networks. Blocking other users shows you're afraid your ideas can't stand up to scrutiny — a signature of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' embarrassingly short tenure. And those with poor impulse control should keep their thumbs off that Facebook shortcut. Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal should still resign for her beyond-intemperate 2017 post hoping that President Donald Trump would be assassinated.
That's why newly-installed Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's pledge to quit banning people in social channels is a laudable move. His policy should become a litmus test for voters.
Law is catching up with technology. Trump's use of his favorite mode of communication was dealt a serious blow last month when a federal judge ruled that the First Amendment dictates he can no longer block people on Twitter, where he makes "official statements." (Twitter users can neither directly view nor reply to tweets from accounts that have blocked them.)
Maverick 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was an early adopter of Facebook as a direct connection to sympathetic voters, realizing she could craft her own message there without interpretation from pesky outsiders.
Fair enough. But that approach has a built-in, perhaps fatal limitation: Who besides your already-receptive audience will ever see your posts?
The trolls, that's who. And those trolls continue to rule the social media roost, especially on Twitter — the complaint box of the internet.
Do officeholders face disparagement and even direct physical threats online? Of course they do, as does every public figure from athlete to actor, high schooler to waiter. But there's a crucial distinction: Only one of these groups is paid by tax dollars. Legislators have a unique civic obligation. The idea of an elected official cutting off a constituent's ability to use any public form of communication is absurd on its face.
Abusive behavior violates the social channels' terms of service, and public servants have the same recourse available to the rest of us (despite how hollow and capricious those safeguards may be). And if a threat is specific and credible, anyone can turn to law enforcement.
Lawmakers, nobody says you have to respond to every drop of bile lobbed your way. And let's not forget that participating in social media isn't mandatory in the first place. But if you choose to play the game, don't prove your fragility by zeroing out the naysayers.