A cautionary tale: Of @RanRinBC and the power of social media

Julie Maclellan

So, is there anyone in B.C. who hasn’t heard about Randy Rinaldo this morning?

“Liberals name candidate for Burnaby-Lougheed” would have been a pretty benign headline in any other circumstances. Except for the fact that it turns out Rinaldo has, to put it mildly, a bit of a social media history – and that history turned up to bite him hard this week.

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In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the furor, a quick recap: Rinaldo has, in the past, tweeted a whole pile of stuff that offended a whole pile of people.

We can all agree that some of what he tweeted was legitimately offensive – let’s put his tweets about irresponsible parenting being the cause of child poverty at the top of that list. Not to mention the fact he suggested child poverty was a “cultural” issue (without naming any cultures in particular). Oh right, and there’s the whole side stream about Roma people being rapists and thieves. He also managed to offend teachers and government liquor store employees, among others.

That some of the tweets in question were years ago doesn’t change their power (especially when seen in force in screenshot after screenshot, now making the rounds on Twitter).

Twitter

 
This morning, somewhat belatedly if not at all surprisingly, Rinaldo took to Twitter to apologize:
 

 

apology

 

 

The Liberal Party of B.C. has already taken to Twitter to defend Rinaldo, saying that Rinaldo disclosed that he has made comments in the past that he regretted, and that in the social media generation, we must find a balance between holding people accountable for past comments and accepting that opinions change.

 

Liberals

 

 

Ay, there’s the rub.

As a bit of a bleeding heart leftie, I’m horrified by some of the things Rinaldo has said. But I can’t find it in my heart to castigate him too hard for it. He had opinions. He tweeted them – often, I suspect, off-the-cuff and without thinking hard about them – and moved on.

Don’t get me wrong. He absolutely deserves to be taking flak for his opinions. He’s running for office, and anything he has said publicly is now fair game.

But ask yourself: How many people out there – current sitting politicians or otherwise – have never said offensive things? Before social media, we’d just never have known about it. How many closet racists, homophobes, misogynists and other assorted politically incorrect people have made it into public life because they had their rants at the pub over beer, or over coffee with friends, or at the family dinner table, rather than tweeting their ill-informed vitriol into the public sphere? (Donald Trump is the obvious exception here, but I’ll leave that aside for another day.)

Critics suggest it doesn’t speak well of Rinaldo’s common sense that he DID tweet his own particular brand of vitriol publicly. I suggest it’s less about a lack of common sense and more about a generational shift that has happened without us 40-somethings really noticing.

The world has changed since we early Gen Xers (and those older than us) had our young years. If we did irresponsible things, made stupid comments and passed outlandish judgments on other groups of people without full facts to hand (and, for the sake of my political future, I will neither confirm nor deny that any of those things in fact happened), then we did it without the benefit of smartphones with which to capture selfies and social media forums in which to share our highly uninformed opinions.

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying that young people are more stupid than middle-aged people (in fact, the opposite is often quite true) – merely that we’re often rasher and quicker to judge in youth than we are likely to become as life seasons us and rounds out some of our sharp edges.

The younger adults out there who are now the up-and-coming leaders of our nation are, as a breed, no more nor less judgmental, foolish or otherwise misguided than were previous generations. It’s just that they’ve had Facebook and Twitter around long enough to have published their judgmental, foolish and misguided pasts out there for the world to see – with no generation ahead of them to show them how it should be done.

It will be different, I suspect, for my daughter’s generation. She’s now going on four, and by the time she hits her teenage and twentysomething years, there will have been an entire generation of folks ahead of her who’ve learned the hard way how to navigate the murky waters of social media. Plus, society at large will have come to grips with the power and reach of social media in a way it hasn’t yet.

It’s Rinaldo’s generation – the millennials the world loves to pass judgment on, and some of the younger Gen X set  – that has it the hardest right now.

Which is why I come out a little softer on Rinaldo’s ridiculous and offensive comments than I’d otherwise be inclined to.

Yes, he said idiotic things. How strongly did he believe them at the time? Was he tweeting from the heart or just trying to be clever, as twentysomething jackasses often do?

Yes, he apologized. Has he changed? Is his remorse genuine, or is he just sorry he got caught?

These are questions for his voters, and for no one else.

I must commend the Liberal Party of B.C. for not taking the easy way out and disqualifying him from running for office just because of his social media past. Letting him stand for office and face his voters is the right thing to do.

Because, honestly, it’s getting to a point where if we only allow people without a social media “past” to run for office, we’ll never have young people stepping up to the plate. And we’ll never have people with the courage of their convictions – people who dare to say what they believe, even if it isn’t a popular or politically astute or even a particularly intelligent opinion.

I, personally, don’t want a legislature full of middle-aged and older people. I want young voices too.

And I don’t want a legislature full of people whose primary asset to their party is that they are “safe” candidates – milquetoast types who’ve never dared to have an opinion and whose social media presence is so anodyne and bland that you can’t find fault with any of it, but who never express an original opinion or take a stance on anything controversial.

(For the record, this will be my downfall when I pursue my future political career. My social media presence is dominated by stories about parenting my three-year-old, and I’m absolutely certain that future voters will use it to decide that I am simply too boring to live.)

Do I want a legislature full of twentysomething jackasses who’ve said stupid things on social media? Not particularly. But I do want those people to be able to stand up and run for office when they’ve outgrown their jackassery (as, Trump aside, most of them eventually do).

Over to you, Burnaby-Lougheed voters. Let’s let this campaign unfold and see what happens, shall we?

And Randy? Time to prove you’ve really learned from this experience and use your new public platform for good rather than for evil.

Also, your kid is super-cute. Maybe you should just start tweeting about parenting. Start with Seven Adorable Things My Progeny Said Before Breakfast. That one’s always a winner.

 

Randy Rinaldo Twitter

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