Tony Holohan’s twitter shenanigans

Credit to sports journalist Colm “Wooly” Parkinson for spotting this:

Dr Holohan’s personal twitter account now has 205,000 followers. The Chief Medical Officer, his successor, has fewer than 3,000 followers.

A large social media following is valuable, and not just in social terms. Dr. Holohan gained that following by virtue of being the most prominent medical voice in Ireland during a pandemic. If he really wanted to, he could capitalise on the trust he earned in that role to make money for himself, in a pinch, just like other social media “influencers” do. Should some advertiser convince him, for example, there would be nothing stopping him endorsing products to the public with that following.

Meanwhile, the new Chief Medical Officer, should a new public health crisis emerge, will be starting from scratch.

If all of this is legal – and I make no suggestion here that it is not – then it really should be made illegal. It amounts to profiting personally from public office.

In terms of profiting, by the way, Dr. Holohan is already well positioned to cash in on his fame. You can now hire him to come and do an after-dinner speech at your event. I would not be shocked if, in time, a book about the pandemic from his point of view were to be sold to some publisher or other.

Public speaking and writing books, though, are par for the course and there is nothing that the state can or should do about them.

The state should, by contrast, have strong rules around things like twitter accounts. All those followers that Holohan has scarpered off with were, in fact, an Irish state asset: He’s effectively taken a public communications channel used by the Government, and turned it into his own personal private asset for use in his own personal private business.

This is the case elsewhere: For example, both 10 Downing Street and the White House have government social media pages that can be used by their occupants, but must be handed over to their successors when the occupants leave office. US Congressmen and Senators have government-run social media pages, too, which are handed over to their successors when they leave office.

It seems Ireland has no such rule. This is a black hole in our political ethics legislation, and it should be closed.

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