Ontario education minister defends blocking some social media users

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce talks to reporters in a PC caucus office as protesters join a demonstration organized by the teachers unions outside the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on Feb. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office is responding to reports some voters have been blocked from commenting on his social media accounts.

For months, Lecce has been at the centre of a contentious labour dispute between the government and education unions, leading to sometimes heated comments online.

There have been numerous complaints from voters that comments are blocked from being posted or are filtered once they are on Lecce’s pages.

In a statement sent to Global News, Alexandra Adamo, Lecce’s press secretary, said, “The minister will remain focused on the real priority of parents landing a deal that keeps their children in class.”

Adamo says the minister has been victimized by derogatory and sometimes vulgar language, adding, “There is no tolerance for individuals that use inappropriate language, offend cultural communities, or viciously attack the minister’s family.”

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Lecce’s office provided examples of some inappropriate social media comments, some including obscenities and one particularly disturbing post that referenced Lecce’s recently deceased mother.

Some parents, however, claim their posts simply expressed opinions contrary to the government’s policies on education reform but were also censored.

Parent Darryl Nielsen reached out to Global News raising concerns about the possibility he was “shadow banned.”

The practice partially conceals or makes a user’s contributions invisible or less prominent than others.

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“I’ve recently become aware that my comments on Stephen Lecce’s (Facebook) account are shadow blocked,” Nielsen told Global News. “I was unaware that this is something that a FB page could do. My comments are visible to me and anyone whom quickly comments or likes it yet are muted to anyone else.

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“Parents like myself expect more transparency from our minister of education. By partly concealing and making our comments either invisible or less prominent on his Facebook page, Stephen Lecce’s goal is to make a dissenting commentator frustrated and leave the site.”

Nielsen, a father of a Grade 4 student with the Toronto District School Board, added that he feels the alleged tactic “misrepresents a balance of support in his party’s favour.”

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Lecce’s office would not provide comment on whether or not “shadow blocking” is a tactic they use or provide details on criteria for blocking or filtering posts.

“I find it very alarming that he’s hiding comments from constituents, parents, and education workers, and blocking their freedom of expression as a result. We have a right to hold our government officials accountable, and respectably voiced concerns should not be censored,” said Stephanie Brandon, a Milton teacher and social media user who claims her comments were also filtered.

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NDP education critic Marit Stiles says neither she nor anyone in her party condones inappropriate, vulgar posts but says she is concerned about reports that some comments about policy are being filtered.

“This is the government that had 7,000 people participate in their education consultation, then tried to bury the results because it contradicted their plan for deep cuts to our children’s classrooms. Bottom line: the Ford government is so opposed to listening to parents, students and educators, they’ll try to silence anyone that says no to cuts.”

However, Adamo said, “As his social media accounts clearly demonstrate, many individuals share contrary perspectives on his platforms, and that is welcomed.”

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