October 08, 2019

Opinion: Our social media problem

Like every aspect of free society, the piping and drumming world has been affected by social media.

On one hand, social media has brought us closer together. Those who were once strangers now can know intimate details about those posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There’s a level of familiarity and camaraderie that many would say is an overall positive.

The promise of social media is and always has been to provide a platform for free expression of thought and opinion. No matter your ability or perceived success as a piper or drummer, anyone who can play a gracenote or a flam is able to espouse their every idea.

One would think that this is a great advent and, by and large, it is, mainly because you can choose to follow, friend or like whomever you wish. If you don’t want to see the musings of that irritating nonentity piper, simply shut them out and move on. What you don’t know won’t hurt you.

On the other hand, social media has been and is being used by piping and drumming associations to monitor what their members say.

The RSPBA and Pipe Bands Australia, to name two well known examples, have used social media as a means to clamp down on members who they feel have gotten out of line, even suspending high-profile leaders merely for expressing their opinion.

These opinions might be strong or even caustic, and they usually involve judging, but they are clearly personal opinions and many or even most might actually agree with them when they boldly express what’s on the minds of many anyway.

We are not for an instant saying that libelous comments should be permitted on social media or anywhere, for that matter. But there is a massive difference between libel and fair opinion.

When associations monitor, suspend or even expel their members for expressing fair opinions that an association official or judge simply doesn’t like, it creates a climate of fear.

When associations monitor, suspend or even expel their members for expressing fair opinions that an association official or judge simply doesn’t like, it creates a climate of fear and bullying – exactly what is not needed for art-forms that increasingly struggle to stay current and relevant to veterans and newcomers alike.

Associations – which are at their heart supposed to represent the wills and wishes of their members – end up battling against members when they clamp down on pointed non-libelous personal opinion. They thwart active and constructive discussion by striking fear into their own members, afraid of stepping out of line or away from the status quo. It’s like a church that censors its congregation or a democracy run by a monomaniacal but ultimately incompetent “leader.”

In this sense, social media can be a bane for individual members and pipe bands. It actually does the exact opposite of its idealistic level-playing-field promise. It is a means to suppress free speech and constructive dialog.

Bands around the world, including many of the most prominent, have policies requiring that their members stay off of social media. They, too, monitor activity and clamp down on those who express fair personal opinion about piping and drumming, as if their opinions will have something to do with the quality of their next performance.

They’re terrified that when they meet next at a competition a thin-skinned judge or power-mad association official will take offense, take their name, and take the band or soloist to the woodshed. These thin-skinned officials are actually detrimental to what should be a healthy and thriving piping and drumming environment.

With that, it is not the association or band member who is the problem, it is the rogue judge or official who should be ferreted out, suspended or even banished outright for working against fair play and constructive dialog.

The result is that those at the top levels, who have the most experienced and knowledgeable voices in a constructive discussion, stay silent, afraid that their personal goals might be jeopardized by officials with unchecked power.

What’s wrong with this picture? Pipers and drummers don’t express fair thoughts for fear of being punished, while officials are permitted to bully their constituents? That’s completely ass-backwards.

The promise of social media has, in this way, completely failed us. We have allowed associations to use social media as a means to tamp down progress.

And that is, in a word, unacceptable.



World associations in suspense over bans
December 6, 2016


Whitehorse bolts PBA after suspensions
June 30, 2016


RSPBA suspends Kilpatrick for three months for Facebook comment
August 31, 2012



  1. What do you know. Grade 4 bands, with plebeian pipers and drummers often get short shift in the pipe band world…….but our “insignificance” may be a blessing in that we are free to express our thoughts and opinions…..as compared to our Grade 1 associates who are muffled……if only those thoughts mattered and were taken seriously……..

  2. Say what you think and hang the consequences. At least you can look yourself in the mirror every morning rather than being a subservient brown noser. It’s pathetic

  3. You place the entire blame on ‘thin-skinned officials’, but surely it is two way traffic. Surely it is anyone, official/player/spectator, that expresses their views in an offensive manner. The question of what sanction for poor behaviour is simple in my view. Cool down period, when everyone is sober engage in a dialogue, apologise or forgive if necessary, and then forget.

  4. It’s an interesting article and a problem that is not exclusive to the RSPBA. After looking at the RSPBA’s articles of association I have reservations as to whether the RSPBA actually has any authority over an individual member of a band, to impose sanctions. Perhaps a Harvard lawyer can unravel this (My comments in brackets after the quoted article of association):-

    11. Membership shall be open to one person appointed as secretary of each
    (This clearly states it is the band secretary that is the member of the RSPBA, not the
    individual player – what jurisdiction do they therefore have over and individual band
    member who is clearly not a member of the RSPBA as defined by Article 11?)

    14. Each Member shall be obliged to pay in accordance with the Rules an
    annual membership fee (“Membership Fee”) in respect of the Band which he or
    she represents.
    (Secretary is member as defined in article 11 and above states “Band which he/she
    represents – No mention of them representing individuals of the bands! nor do individuals pay any fee to the RSPBA!)

    17. Subject to Article 31, any individual, with Band Registration, who wishes to
    become a Band Member of the Company must sign, and lodge with the
    Company, a written application for membership (in such form as the Directors
    shall require) stating the Band with which that individual holds Band
    Registration. The Directors may, at their discretion, refuse to admit any person
    to membership as a Band Member and shall not be obliged to give any reason
    for their decision.
    (Is there a difference between being an individual with band registration and being a
    “Band Member of the Company”? above would suggest this to be the case! does the
    signing of a band registration form and form being sent/registered with RSPBA qualify
    as a “Written application for membership of the RSPBA? – refer to registration form

    31.2. treat any individual who is (i) registered as a member of any Band registered
    with the Association; and (ii) registered as a player with the Association immediately
    prior to adoption of these Articles as a Band Member;
    (This clearly states that signing a registration form makes you a “Band Member” so
    the individual is a member? – contradicts article 11 !
    Article 17 states:-
    “ any individual, with Band Registration, who wishes to become a Band
    Member of the Company must sign, and lodge with the Company, a written
    application for membership”
    It is not stated on a registration form that you are automatically made a member of
    the RSPBA – neither does it have any wording requesting that you are applying to
    become a “Band Member of the RSPBA as required under article 17! Therefore
    article 31.2 is not compatible with article 11 and 17!)



Forgotten Password?