Rick Perry and the Pork Chop Twitter Block

Aug 21, 2011
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Down here in Texas, we invented the State Fair. That may not technically be true, but everything you know and love to hate about state fairs, we invented. The Corny Dog came from Texas (and yes, you've been spelling it wrong all this time). Put a stick in a hotdog, dip it in batter and fry it, and you're halfway to Dallas. Fried butter? Suck it, Iowa. We've had fried butter in Texas for years. And fried beer. And deep fried frito pie, which is fritos topped with chili and cheese, somehow dipped in batter and deep fried into a mound of goodness. Take a whiff. Ahhhh . . . wait, don't smell the air. We're at Air Quality Level Orange down here, so maybe you should just look at the pretty pictures.

[Image credit: Perfect Porridge]

So, you can imagine our Texas-sized surprise when our governor and now-presidential candidate Rick Perry went to the Iowa state fair and made this comment on Twitter:

Can't beat a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.

What?! In case you didn't realize, that is the most un-Texan thing Rick Perry has ever said. Down here in Texas, we are morally obliged to declare ourselves better than any other state. Heck, we don't even need the rest of you. We're so great, we might just leave and go back to being our own country. On so many levels, Rick Perry's statement is simply anti-Texan. If he's saying the Iowa State Fair has better pork chops on a stick than the Texas State Fair, he's wrong. Our pork chop on a stick is much better (I'm assuming, because I'm a Texan). Technically, he's being even more general. He's saying that 'nothing' can beat a pork chop on a stick in Iowa. Can't beat it? Nothing can? Well, them there's fightin' words.

[aquote]Disparaging Texas food-on-a-stick was a step too far[/aquote]

And a fight is just what Perry got . . . almost. Local food blogger Andrea Grimes (who also credits herself a feminist and comedian) decided to take on Perry's pork chop claims. She is the key editor for the local branch of Eater, a notoriously snarky and fun food industry blog that has outposts throughout the country. Grimes doesn't hide her liberal leanings, so Perry was probably already setting off warnings on her radar, but apparently disparaging Texas food-on-a-stick, if not the whole of Texan society, was a step too far.

So, Grimes decided to reply on Twitter, but first she went to add Perry to her Following list. When she clicked the "+Follow" button, she was denied and greeted instead with the message "Sorry, you can't follow this user (because they're blocking you)."

Before I dive in, I want to point out the passive aggressive tone of that message. First, it is incorrect to refer to a single user as "they." The grammatical way to say this would be "(because he or she is blocking you)." "They" is always a plural. But this again touches on the problems with gender on social networks, as I've mentioned before.

Second, I love the parenthesis. Parentheses divide a topic in two. Here is the main part, outside the parentheis. But inside, here's the secret that I'm going to whisper to you as an aside, so you get my drift. The official, business-like Twitter explanation is that you cannot follow this user. But, just between you and me, you must have done something to piss them off (because he or she is blocking you). It's like Twitter is embarrassed to say it out loud. Don't worry, Twitter, we know it's not your fault.

So, what's the problem? After all, as Perry representatives made clear to the Dallas Morning News, the Twitter account belongs to Perry, and "He manages it as he likes." He's allowed to follow or block whomever he chooses. Just because he's governor doesn't mean he loses his personal freedoms to the whim of his constituents, right? Of course not. But I'm not claiming that Perry is doing something legal or illegal. I just think he would be a better governor for lightening up on all the blocking.

Clearly I have partisan feelings about Rick Perry, but I would say the same about any candidate on either side of the aisle. If Barney Frank blocked Matt Drudge from following him on Twitter, I would chastise Representative Frank the same way.

[aquote]A Twitter block is sticking your fingers in your ears[/aquote]

It's important to understand what a Twitter block really means. If I block you, it does not mean that you cannot read what I am tweeting. As long as my tweets are still public, as Rick Perry's tweets are, you can still read my posts. You can scroll through my timeline and see everything I say, and vice versa, so I can see all of your posts.

It does block direct messages, which are Twitter's most private communications. Okay, I can agree with that. But it also blocks @replies and @mentions. In case you're ill-Twitterate, @replies and @mentions are tweets that include someone else's Twitter handle. Twitter makes it very easy to see every time you have been mentioned in someone else's tweet. So, if you were to tweet "@philipberne looks like a hairy, dirty hobo," it would show up in a special list of tweets that include my @name.

A twitter block does not prevent you from writing those @replies. It does not prevent them from showing up in your public timeline. Anyone following you will still see what you have written about me. It does keep those @replies from showing up in my special @reply list. Basically, if I block you, I'm the only person who can't hear what you're saying about me.

A Twitter block is sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "LA LA! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!! LA LA!"

As Grimes points out, the simple problem is that a governor has an obligation to listen to his or her constituents. Getting access to a politician is difficult, and often requires time and money that the common folk doesn't have. Even though Grimes admits she did not vote for Perry, he still represents her, and it wouldn't hurt his relationship with his opposition if they knew they could use Twitter as an easy outlet to petition for a redress of grievances.

But I think it's much more basic than that. I don't think you should need to be a constituent to be heard. Take the example of my favorite Twitter politician, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker. Booker regularly retweets messages to his followers from people who are sharply, and at times even unfairly critical of his work. Sometimes he tries to address their issues. Other times he simply retweets without comment.

In a way, especially online, there is a badge of honor in this. It is honorable to publicly air the problems your opponents have with you. It shows that you are listening, and hearing. It shows you care about both sides of an issue. It shows you aren't afraid to face your detractors. It's also a sign of maturity.

I send emails to my Congresspeople all the time. I never voted for any of them. I don't always get a reply, but I have gotten a reply from my representative and each senator at least once. I respect that. I may not agree with what they say or do, but I respect them as people for listening to me, and in return, I will listen to them. If we ever find ourselves in agreement, they will have my vote.


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