Lessons learned about shovelling online abuse

In the end, perhaps something good actually did come out of “Shovelgate.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/01/2022 (514 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the end, perhaps something good actually did come out of “Shovelgate.”

Probably not for Progressive Conservative MLA and Minister of Economic Development and Jobs Jon Reyes, who found himself at the centre of a Twitterverse implosion this week after tweeting a picture, snapped from an upstairs window, of his wife out shovelling their home’s driveway after returning from a 12-hour hospital shift.

The intent was clearly affectionate and respectful: “Even after a 12 hour night shift at the hospital last night, my wife still has the energy to shovel the driveway. God bless her and all our frontliners. Time to make her some breakfast.” But the immediate online reaction, on a social-media platform known more for its hair-trigger snark and insults than its deliberative sympathy and insight, was emphatically condemnatory.

- @jonreyes204
Manitoba MLA Jon Reyes received backlash for posting this tweet about his wife shovelling snow after a 12-hour hospital shift.
- @jonreyes204 Manitoba MLA Jon Reyes received backlash for posting this tweet about his wife shovelling snow after a 12-hour hospital shift.

From Winnipeg to the farthest reaches of cyberspace, in venues ranging from Twitter itself to the august Washington Post to gutter-dwelling TMZ, Mr. Reyes’ well-intended photo/tweet became the target of intense scrutiny and merciless derision. Heck, even the ladies of TV’s The View saw fit to weigh in, albeit mostly supportively.

The most common implication, however, was that the Waverley MLA was shiftless and insensitive for leaving the grunt work of driveway clearing to his overburdened wife.

Of course, it all amounted to several shovels-full of nonsense. And all it took to defuse the situation was for Cynthia Reyes — the aforementioned snow-scraping spouse — to issue a Twitter statement of her own, clarifying her non-victimhood and, in the process, offering a useful lesson in online decorum, thinking before tweeting and generally decent human behaviour.

“I just wanted to shovel,” Mrs. Reyes said online, explaining she arrived home Saturday morning when everyone in the house was still asleep, and viewed the overnight accumulation of snow as an opportunity to take in some fresh air and decompress a bit in a “quiet and peaceful” place after hours of wearing an N95 mask in a stressful environment.

She also rightly questioned the fault-finding commenters’ assumptions about the nature of her partnership with her husband, and of their rush to assign gender roles to tasks that are shared equitably in their household.

“My shovelling was an act of self-care and taking care of my home and family,” she wrote, adding that “this tweet probably would not have gone viral if the gender roles were reversed or if my husband were not a politician.”

MLA Jon Reyes
MLA Jon Reyes' (left) tweet was mocked in venues ranging from Twitter itself to the Washington Post to TMZ. (Province of British Columbia photo)

It’s just the way the Reyeses roll, she explained — he likes cooking, she likes shovelling, and vice-versa. Unlike the online rudeness reverberators, she perceived her husband’s tweet as honest, genuine and sincere.

“I am grateful that he appreciates what I do and that he loves me and shows it publicly,” she wrote. “So… I will not be divorcing him over shovelling as many have recommended.”

The lessons to be gleaned from this tempest on a two-car garage approach are twofold:

First — and this would be well heeded by Mr. Reyes as he continues to be “unapologetically himself,” as his wife proudly describes — is that before ever hitting “send” on a tweet or any other social-media submission, it’s wise to pause and thoughtfully assess what the ramifications might be when the judgmental eyes of the online world find it.

And second, a more general piece of advice to those whose first social-media impulse is to unleash scorn — either their own, or the retweeted abuse of others: think twice; consider context; favour kindness over cruelty.

Instead of snark-tweeting, maybe go outside and shovel some snow. It’s rumoured to be a great stress reliever.

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