Times in Trail: Social media can make victims out of everyone

Once in the hands of unscrupulous commentators, the Wild West mentality kicks in that focuses on “shoot first, ask questions later.”

The recent Trail Times story regarding posting on Facebook is still very fresh in my mind and what started out as a warning about social media posts has taken on a life of its own.

Of the many sad parts of this story, the one that stands out is that how all parties have become victims in this instance.

Once in the hands of unscrupulous commentators, the Wild West mentality kicks in that focuses on “shoot first, ask questions later.”

It doesn’t work in real life and it certainly doesn’t work on social media.

The fact that everyone became a victim in this scenario isn’t one that is lost in the newsroom or in society in general.

Yet the sordid situation appears to arise every day.

On Wednesday a video of a Toronto woman tossing a coffee at a man for asking her why she parked in the handicap parking spot, despite no apparent disability, went viral.

Needless to say the comment section ran amuck until someone wrote that the woman must now feel terrible reading all the horrible comments that people had for her.

Again, no one comes out clean when you step into the realm of social media.

Is there an easy answer? There never is when the area is as uncontrolled as the World Wide Web.

We can talk until we’re blue in the face about responsibly using this technological tool but in the end, it reverts to the old issue of drinking and driving. There will always be a few idiots who will try it without thinking of the consequences.

The only difference with social media is that there isn’t just one drunk on the road but a billion people using this highway.

I’m not going to wade into the local issue. I’ll leave that up to the people that continue to comment online to share their thoughts about commenting online.

You can see how the circle never ends.

You can blame the media, you can blame the police, you can blame anyone you want but that’s all it is – blaming.

The thought of anything going online without the obligatory negative comments is virtually impossible nowadays.

There couldn’t be a better example of a story we wrote at Christmas time about police officers and the Canadian Tire owner opening his doors so the cops could get a few toys for kids they had removed from a home on Christmas Eve.

It didn’t take long for the vitriol to start spewing with people questioning why the police had the nerve to remove children from a home on Christmas Eve. Or accusing the cops of over-stepping their authority to ruin a family’s Christmas.

Most rational people would understand the police were doing their job and went above and beyond the call of duty to make Christmas a little more pleasant for some children.

But that doesn’t matter on social media. Rational and clear thoughts are too often derided. So what’s the point?

While I never post online comments, because (a) who cares? And (b) I couldn’t be bothered unless it was to wish someone a Happy Birthday; I do read some of the comments.

I learned something new last week called Godwin’s Law. Basically it asserts that in this day and age almost any conversation on social media will denigrate to the point where someone or something will be compared to Hitler or Nazis.

That’s how low the discourse has become online between commentators. It’s so prevalent that someone can actually track the tone and it will inevitably end up with name calling as a perverse way to make a point.

I applaud the CBC’s move to make people more accountable for their online commenting but perhaps it won’t be long before everyone follows the path set out by some major newspapers which have disabled commenting altogether.

It’s sad that something called “social media” has become so anti-social.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times

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