Don't fear Twitter: Clementthestar.com | Mar 1st 2011 11:51 PM
Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA—Don't fear the Tweeter.
That was Industry Minister Tony Clement's message to MPs grilling him Tuesday on the government's Internet policy.
Last month, Clement used the social-media website Twitter to announce the government's intention to force the CRTC to review decision that allowed usage-based billing.
The move would have effectively ended the ability of small Internet companies to sell unlimited access plans because they'd now have to pay their larger suppliers for the amount of data consumed.
A public outcry ensued, prompting Clement to post that he'd be reviewing the decision with "a view to protecting Canadians & promoting choice."
The Twitter account in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's name also posted a demand for a review, noting he was "very concerned about CRTC's decision on usage-based billing and its impact on consumers."
It was the first time Harper's account had been used to convey a policy statement, as opposed to linking to a news release or indicating he was at a particular event.
While the decision to review the CRTC move was popular, many questioned using social messaging to make a formal policy pronouncement.
Even the head of the CRTC, Konrad von Fickenstein, revealed that he'd learned about Clement's decision via the coverage of his tweet.
At a House of Commons committee Tuesday, Liberal MP Marc Garneau suggested that wasn't the way the government should do business.
"Are we, in fact, setting government policy and government decisions by means of 140 characters that you send out in the middle of the night to tell the CRTC, a respected regulatory body, how decisions are made in this country?" said Garneau.
The length of a Twitter message, or tweet, is restricted to 140 characters of text.
But Clement said that among his over 12,000 followers, 2,000 or 3,000 are reporters.
"There is nothing different from articulating government policy via social media as compared to a news release, or a press conference or other means that have been traditionally available to politicians," he told MPs.
"I don't think you should fear that. I would encourage you to open your arms to that."
The CRTC is reviewing the decision, though Clement says if the regulator does decide to go ahead with usage-based billing, he'll overrule them.
Garneau said that when he was president of the Canadian Space Agency, the minister would have told him about policy changes before they became public.
"I can assure you that my first allegiance is to the people of Canada, not necessarily the chair of the CRTC," Clement said.
"I make no apologies for that."
In recent days, a number of MPs and political staff have increased their use of Twitter to communicate government messaging, partially because the service is now being installed on House of Commons BlackBerrys.
Among others, Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the prime minister, has used Twitter to provide updates on the evacuation of Canadians from Egypt and Libya.
Shared from Read It Later