Opinion Piece for the Week of May 9, 2016: Fort McMurray’s Fire Brings out the Best…and the Worst of Twits

Twitter is the gossip grapevine we love to hate when we’re trying to be respectable. But, really, we genuinely love the immediacy, the unguarded bluntness, the delicious sense of ungoverned gossip. Today when things happen, we’ve “heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend”, who probably heard it on Twitter.
Unsurprisingly, the best and the worst of Twitter surfaced for the fire in Fort McMurray.
Twitter was invaluable for evacuees to hear about resources, to track down help centres, to find out conditions in town and along the highway in those early, scary hours. Premier Notley immediately vowed to match Red Cross financial donations, issued statements and clarified and corrected rumours about financial support, wildfire progress and her government’s unwavering confidence in, and support for, the firefighters and the citizens of Fort McMurray—all tweeted and re-tweeted.
People posted links to their escape videos, asked for help to find their families, their pets, supported each other and expressed heartfelt gratitude to the generous and brave souls who gave them water, fuel and comfort during the evacuation and afterwards. They told us of countless people doing the right thing because it was right, and not because the price was right. Coordination of the evacuation, fundraising, and resources was aided by tweeting.
Prime Minister Trudeau learned from his predecessor that when a politician plays politics with a disaster, it’s usually a disaster (remember exhausted firefighters forced to stand for Mr. Harper in Kelowna last July?), so he vowed to stay out of the way and let the pros do their jobs while promising to match donations dollar-for-dollar, no limit…and he put it all on Twitter.
Surely, this was the best of Twitter highlighting the best in people.
But Twitter’s dark side surfaced and we got to that, too.
Tom Moffat tweeted his “karmic” comment early and, to quote Mr. Lahey from Trailer Park Boys, started “a shitstorm of shit-tastic proportions”.  When you say it on Twitter, everybody can react. Which they did. Although he claims he wasn’t blaming 90,000 victims of the Fort McMurray fire for causing all of climate change for 7 billion–and their own catastrophe too–Mr. Moffat’s been suspended from his job for being a social media twit. (Inappropriately, the Town of Taber apologized. Serious eye roll here.)
But Mr. Moffat has the courage to own his own twitterness. There are the Others…the Few, the Pungent, the Venomous—those cowardly twits who snipe from behind aliases.
Like the twit that posted Mr. Trudeau’s picture and, weirdly, linked the fire and the PM’s pipeline policies. Or the twit that acknowledged that his expenses would be paid and he’d even get a new house built, but complained bitterly because “what good is a new house if it’s empty?”. Or the twit that sneered at the PM’s penchant for selfies then asked why the PM wasn’t up in Fort McMurray right now (perhaps taking a selfie with a burned-out basement?). Or the twit the complained that the PM refused international firefighting help because Mr. Trudeau wasn’t “on the frontline so what does it matter?”, even though Chief Darby Allen said that there wasn’t room for any more help. Or the twit that constantly tweets about “Trudeau’s indifference to the West” and continued non-stop during the height of the evacuation, using up valuable time and space on his pet prejudice.
But back to the best: Mr. Brian Jean—epitomizing grace under fire quite literally, given that his own house burnt to ashes–refused to be drawn into condemnation of political opponents, saying instead, that “Now was not the time for politics.” He chose to concentrate on the well-being of his fellow citizens, the safety of their families and their loved ones. He thanked rescuers for the life of his mom. He expressed the gratitude of all for the efforts of so many.
We could all learn a thing or two about class from Mr. Jean.


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