CampusOpinion

Politicians can’t separate public from private online lives

You’d think that this would be old hat by now, but in the last couple of months there have been a lot of instances where politicians or political figures realize that they don’t have the freedom to say whatever they want, make statements of their personal views or have sketchy pasts that they may now regret. More recently, there has been an example of that closer to home — our own SU VP Operations and Finance, Cody Bondarchuk, made an inflammatory political comment on his Facebook page, sparking a backlash: some people called for his resignation and others expressed their disgust.

None of this is unexpected anymore. People tend to believe that you can separate your public and personal life, but in this day and age that really isn’t possible. If a recruiter can Google your name and find pictures of you doing kegstands last summer before they consider you for a professional job, their line of thought won’t allow for the fact that you did that outside of a professional context and just leave it at that. Odds are pretty good that they’ll look at the photos and immediately decide that you aren’t a good fit for their company.

Similarly, when you’re a public figure, the role you inhabit doesn’t exist in a vacuum — the students you represent won’t separate what you say as a public official from what you do in private, and neither will university officials, public figures and other people in influential positions who could potentially help or harm whatever organization you’re a part of.

Now, the argument could be made that whatever is said on a personal Facebook page should be considered private. That works, but only if a person maintains a strict demarcation between their personal and public lives, meaning that you can’t have 400+ people as Facebook friends if you want it to truly be a “private” sphere. The guy you met in Bio last semester and shared notes with once or twice won’t necessarily feel the need to respect what you say as confidential information between friends because you don’t have the close relationship with him that, say, your best friend and ultimate confidante enjoys.

Cutting your Facebook profile down to your 30 closest friends or imposing strict privacy settings sucks. It’s a lot of work, and probably would feel close to censorship, but the Internet has allowed a conflation of the public and the private to such an extreme extent that nothing anyone says online anymore is really “private”. Anything sent in a message, anything posted on Facebook (even if it is later deleted) can be screenshot and is stored on a server somewhere where it can be accessed by anyone with high enough access clearance and the right justification to look.

As someone in the public eye, even occupying a role in student government instead of, say, an MLA position, Bondarchuk needs to remember that his role as VP OpsFi doesn’t necessarily end when he goes home. Anything he says online will be viewed within the framework of that role, and he will be held accountable by the students who voted for him (and those who didn’t) for any views he possesses and blatantly states in a public forum, whether they are meant to be kept private or not.

8 Comments

  1. Having been one of the people who was able to see the post in question by Bondarchuk, I agree with the sentiments he should resign. It was wildly distasteful and honestly, he’s lucky nobody called the RCMP on him for something so violent.

    We deserve better student representatives than that.

    1. My language may have been too strong and I have apologized for not thinking through my argument before posting, but at the end of the day it’s my personal opinion and does not influence my job. This article makes some good points, but I just don’t agree that I should be expected to act in my role 24/7; that is incredibly unhealthy and inappropriate to expect me to be working all the time. That being said, I understand how some may conflate my position with my personal opinions. People may say I don’t understand the reality of an elected position in that regard, but if we conform to how the system currently works that system will never change, especially when it’s a bad system that expects too much from it’s elected representatives.

      You are correct that I am a student representative. I make mistakes and say things I shouldn’t, as every other student does. People in politics are supposed to be a representation of the average constituent, and not better than them. I will make mistakes and I will apologize when I fuck up, but I won’t apologize for not being perfect, because that’s an elitist system I won’t buy into. You deserve someone who is an average student, and that’s what you’re getting. I will keep fighting for student issues when representing the SU, and I will also keep fighting for my Charter rights when not representing the SU.

        1. You aren’t expected to be working 24/7 and literally nobody is saying that. You’re expected to realize your role as a public figure and how what you say, regardless of if it is a personal opinion or a heavily vetted press release, is going to reflect upon you, your station, and the organization. If you’re saying that this is “a bad system that expects too much from it’s elected representatives,” I would be interested to know if your coworkers share your opinion that the Students’ Union is a “bad system”. Maybe that’d be a good story for The Gateway in itself.

          Calling for violence against the Prime Minister of Canada is incredibly unbecoming and wholly childish for anyone, and especially worrisome that you’re expected to be a mature, unbiased, and upstanding pillar of the community (even if it is just your “personal opinion”). You can’t reconcile wanting to be able to publicly say really ridiculous things (like someone should murder Stephen Harper) with wanting that to not at all tarnish your employment. It is honestly absurd to think you should be able to otherwise. This entire article was calling you out on exactly what talking points you’re repeating here, and you still don’t understand.

          Last, don’t even try to turn this around on people by acting like a victim and refusing to apologize for “not being perfect”. That’s even more despicable than both wanting someone killed because you disagree with your politics, and wanting people to not judge you based on what you say.

        2. You think it’s a bad system where you, in your ‘personal life’ commented how you wished violence and death to someone. That’s not on the system, that’s on you. The bad system is your morals and logic instead. It’s your conflation with ‘fighting for Charter Rights’ that is a bad system. A selfish system of self-centred immaturity.

          You speak of the system, elitism, and wanting to change it. You may have fancy words but you’re pointing at a system that does have flaws but these flaws are irrelevant because the first steps to change is to change yourself and be better.

      1. “you deserve someone who is an average student”

        p. sure average students don’t want to kill the prime minister and say so loud and proud, you should maybe reconsider your knowledge of the term average while I ponder how you became so out of touch with the student body that you think that is normal when you’ve only been in office over the summer

        and stop whining about ~muh charter rights~, your speech isn’t protected when you’re blathering about committing violence against other people and otherwise, you’re free to say whatever stupid thing you want with the caveat that you recognize people are going to give you flak for it especially when you’re an elected representative ya dweeb

      2. Lol I for one look for the willingness for immediate dropping of the victim card in my elected reps, way to go!!

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