Twitter restricted Bernier's account for 12 hours after he urged followers to 'play dirty' with journalists

·4 min read
Twitter has placed Maxime Bernier's account in 'read-only' mode, preventing him from tweeting until he takes down messages that released the personal email addresses of journalists. (Bobby Hristova/CBC - image credit)
Twitter has placed Maxime Bernier's account in 'read-only' mode, preventing him from tweeting until he takes down messages that released the personal email addresses of journalists. (Bobby Hristova/CBC - image credit)

Twitter restricted People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier's account, preventing him from posting any new messages for 12 hours after he used the platform to encourage his supporters to "play dirty" with journalists covering his campaign.

The offending tweets singled out three reporters, calling them "idiots" and describing their efforts to question him as "disgusting smear jobs." Bernier tweeted out their email addresses and encouraged his followers to "play dirty."

CTV journalist Christy Somos responded to the attacks online. In a tweet describing "what your inbox looks like after Bernier tweets about you," Somos posted a screenshot of a threatening email she was sent.

In that email, someone who appears to be a PPC supporter says that they hope Somos is sexually assaulted and murdered and encourages her to kill herself.

CTV News communications manager Rob Duffy told CBC News in an email that Somos would not be providing details about her interactions with the PPC party.

Somos tweeted out a link to story she wrote for CTV that shed some light on the matter. The story quotes a number of experts drawing links between the PPC and extremist and racist views and was posted immediately after her tweet containing the threatening email.

After Bernier posted the email address of a Global News journalist who questioned him, Global reporter Ahmar Khan also posted a screenshot of a message he received that he described as both antisemitic and Islamophobic.

Khan said he became the subject of Bernier's tweets after sending the PPC's press office a request the day after the election asking if the party could provide someone to talk to him about voters' concerns about possible extremism in the party.

"I've spoken with a number of folks, and some have highlighted their concerns for what the party stands for, and stressed discomfort upon seeing your signs. They fear that the PPC is pushing far-right extremism and allowing people who [are] xenophobic in the party [to] run as candidates," Khan's email to the PPC said.

The third reporter targeted in Bernier's tweet was The Hill Times' Neil Moss, who wrote to the PPC asking for someone to respond to claims that party members engaged in hateful, violent and racist incidents while on the campaign trail.

"Does the party tolerate any supporter that participates in violent activity or incidents of hate on the campaign trail?" Moss asked the PPC. "Does the party believe it is supported by white supremacists? If so, does it welcome that support?"

Moss asked those questions for a story published on Wednesday that quoted a number of experts saying that violence and hate on the campaign trail should be addressed by party leaders.

Twitter said in a media statement that Bernier's tweets violated the company's private information policy.

The account was suspended at 11 p.m. on Wednesday evening. The account was reactivated 12 hours later after Bernier took down the offending tweets.

Bernier's account was locked in read-only mode — which allowed him to send and receive private messages and permitted others to look at his account, but didn't allow him to tweet out messages himself.

The Canadian Association of Journalists published a screenshot of Bernier's tweets, saying that going after journalists "for doing their basic duty is unacceptable and dangerous behaviour."

It remains unclear if Bernier published the offending tweets himself, if someone else in his party did so with his approval or if they were published without his involvement.

CBC News reached out to PPC spokesman Martin Masse for comment but has yet to receive a response.

CBC/Radio-Canada issued a news release today offering support to journalists who have become the subject of online harassment because of the work they do.

"It should be obvious to all Canadians that this harassment is unacceptable behaviour. When the incitement to harass journalists comes from public figures, it is even worse," the statement said.

"Criticism comes with the job. But online harassment, particularly inciting others to attack someone for doing their job, puts the safety of people at risk. That the worst of this abuse targets women and racialized journalists should make clear just how dangerous this is."

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