Editorial: Nenshi tweets it big time

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

Twitter is not kind to politicians. The convenience provided by the platform, combined with the thousands of guaranteed followers that come with being an elected official, makes it all too easy for a politician to broadcast a career-ending faux pas to the masses. As a result, the Twitter accounts of most politicians are almost always painfully boring and artificial, in order to avoid unwanted controversy.

Naheed Nenshi is an exception. Where other politicians repeatedly try and fail, Calgary’s mayor seems to effortlessly succeed.

So when a screenshot of one of Nenshi’s tweets hit the front page of Reddit, a popular link-sharing website, it was not the death sentence it would have been for most politicians. While most elected officials garner unintentional internet fame through their blunders, Nenshi’s tweet was instead being praised for its wit.

The tweet itself was a response to a disgruntled Calgarian asking about the purpose of the controversial Peace Bridge. Nenshi wryly replied, “I think it’s to be used to cross the river.”

Receiving over 20,000 up votes and over 900 comments, the screenshot of this exchange quickly became one of Reddit’s most popular posts. One of the commenters stated, “I do not know much about this ‘naheed nanshi’ but I do know he is now my favorite politician in the world.”

Although they usually don’t receive this kind of attention, tweets like this are fairly typical of Nenshi. Since he spends time on Twitter communicating with people who have tweeted at him, he makes little effort to stop his personality from coming through in his responses. While this would be a public relations disaster for many politicians, Nenshi has managed to pull it off.

When he isn’t responding to questions and criticisms, he is tweeting about local events, policy changes and encounters with noteworthy Calgarians. Most of this is done with a light-hearted sense of humour, although Nenshi takes care to adopt a more serious cadence when appropriate.

This approach to Twitter has gained Nenshi almost 50,000 followers. In comparison, Toronto’s Rob Ford and Vancouver’s Gregor Robinson both have around 20,000 followers each. Despite being the mayors of cities with over twice the population of Calgary, they are both eclipsed by Nenshi’s online presence. A quick look at either of their pages makes the reason for this clear: they are flooded with links, hashtags, and banalities. These are all sure signs of aging politicians struggling to adapt to a changing environment, held back by their fear of doing something wrong.

It is hard to blame these people for taking the boring route, however, when the alternative could be much worse. A brilliantly disastrous example of a politician allowed to freely express himself on twitter can be found in American Senator Chuck Grassley. Grassley has also received quite a bit of attention for his Twitter account, albeit not in the way he may have hoped. His timeline is filled with gems such as “I now h v an iphone,” “Norwalk hs 41students issues stop Gasprices AfgNistan gaymArriage Iowa economy F16,” and “Test.” His tweets are just what you would expect the half-senile ravings of an 80- year-old Republican to sound like, complete with weekly complaints about the lack of history on the History Channel.

While tweeting is often considered to be a rather inconsequential skill for a politician, it is starting to become more important as people begin to turn to social media to learn about politics. If a person looks at a politician’s tweets and sees “Turned to history channel. No. history again,” they may begin to realize how unfit that person is for the position.

Nenshi has used Twitter to remind his constituents how amazing having a young, Harvard educated mayor can be. His constant, often humorous communication with Calgarians has increased his reputation, not only in our city, but on the world’s stage. On a website that allows people to bear all, we’re lucky our mayor has something worth showing.

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