Last week we saw a vivid example of what can happen when a private conversation becomes public and it brought back memories of a text exchange involving now Premier Danielle Smith.
That Escalated Quickly
Last week, what was supposed to have been a private direct message (DM) exchange between well-known Edmonton sportswriter Mark Spector and former NHL referee Tim Peel suddenly went very public, because Peel released it on X.
Spector had taken exception to Peel criticizing him on X for a question he asked Oilers Captain Connor McDavid after another loss. The exchange quickly got very nasty when Spector confronted Peel in a DM on X for his comments.
As Ron Burgundy once said “That escalated quickly.”
I won’t share it here because of the profanity involved, but you can look it up online if you want.
For the record, I don’t condone what Peel did. That was a private conversation that should have stayed private. However, it does show when you send someone a private message, it may not remain private.
The Infamous Text
The nasty exchange between a sportswriter and former hockey ref made me think of another somewhat similar exchange between a reporter and a politician.
In late 2014, then Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith crossed the floor to sit as a Conservative under Premier Jim Prentice. She took several Wildrose MLA’s with her.
In early 2015, the move backfired about as badly as possible when the floor crossers had to win Conservative nominations to run in the election that spring. One by one they were defeated and the same fate happened to Smith. On the night of her nomination loss, she announced she was getting out of politics.
At the time, Vassy Kapelos covered the Alberta Legislature for Global TV in Edmonton. When she followed up with Smith the next day to try to get an interview, this infamous text exchange followed.
To her credit, Smith apologized to Kapelos via text and said she was wrong to respond in that manner.
Understandable in a way. Her political life seemed to be over at that point. That was then and she’s Premier now.
That text exchange and the DM exchange between Spector and Peel serve as clear reminders to anyone that you need to be extremely careful when responding to anyone in writing.
By the way, Spector has taken more than his share of criticism over the years – some of it has been justified, but most of it hasn’t been in my opinion. He’s a solid columnist who is paid to ask tough questions and give his opinion. He’s not a reporter who needs to tell both sides of a story. He’s also not paid to be a fan. He’s paid to give his comments. If you don’t like what he has to say then don’t read what he writes or listen to what he says. I like his work.
I’m also pretty sure he’s not too concerned about Peel making their conversation public.
Others though might be shocked when their private conversations become public.
Be Careful Out There
The overriding thought most people have is “It’s just a text message”. Or “It’s just a DM”. What’s the big deal?
It is a private conversation and anytime a private conversation is shared there’s something that turns up the interest level. When there’s something juicy written, the interest level goes through the roof.
Last week’s DM exchange and the text exchange between Smith and Kapelos is different in one clear respect. Kapelos was a reporter asking a well-known politician questions over text. Whatever response a politician in that situation makes is fair game to report. Smith should have known better than write what she did to a reporter.
While I don’t think Peel was right to release a private conversation with Spector, Kapelos certainly had that right as a reporter. She was asking a politician a question. The politician’s response can and should be reported.
Municipal leaders who I have done media training for have told me that text messages, along with emails and other recorded forms of communication are "FOIPable". That means, they can be accessed by reporters and members of the public through Freedom of Information provisions.
The courts have made various decisions on whether text messages and other private messages must be kept private. I’m not sure anyone wants to start taking a case like this to court because it will be a long and expensive process.
The other solution is much easier. Before you hit send, ask yourself if you might regret sending what you’ve just typed. Would you be okay if it appeared as a headline in tomorrow’s newspaper? If not, maybe delete it and put your phone away for awhile.