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Finnish politicians face heat for blocking social media followers

Elected officials in Finland are increasingly coming under fire from the public for blocking critics on social media.

Finland lacks clear guidelines on social media blocking by politicians. Image: AOP

The discussion around politicians blocking critics on social media is heating up in Finland.

Earlier this week a federal court in the United States ruled that President Donald Trump couldn't block his critics on Twitter because his account was seen as a public forum, a virtual town hall where citizens can engage with his comments.

That same discussion is now developing in Finland, where media researcher Jukka-Pekka Puro said representatives of the Left Alliance and Greens have engaged in the most blocking of followers due to the high volume of inappropriate messages they receive.

"I get that users will block accounts sending particularly aggressive messages. But it's not always easy to determine where to draw the line," Puro said.

At the end of 2017, former Greens chair Touko Aalto blocked Centre party MP Mikko Kärnä for what Aalto called inappropriate comments.

"Parliamentarians usually engage in civilised discussions online since they have to get along on the job. But that’s not to say that they have to put up with everything," communications professor Pekka Isotalus from the University of Tampere explained.

Democratic participation at stake

Problems arise from a democratic standpoint when powerful politicians prevent people from participating in public discussion by blocking users.

In October 2018 Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti ruled that then-premier Juha Sipilä had the right to block users from his Twitter account because it was his personal and not official government account.

Greens chair and Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo meanwhile unblocked newsstand tabloid Ilta-Sanomat’s editor-in-chief Ulla Appelsin from her Twitter account after taking up a ministerial post this spring.

Media researcher Puro said politicians need to be able to withstand criticism.

"The more powerful a politician, the more carefully they should weigh the decision to block someone," he explained.

Puro said the time may be ripe for a non-politically aligned organ to issue social media blocking guidelines for elected officials.

However in the future, political discussions may shift away from Twitter and onto Instagram due to the platform's popularity with young people, according to Puro.