Melissa Smalley

Melissa Smalley

Online feuding sets a bad example

Melissa Smalley’s monthly column to the Free Press

From the time we’re old enough to remember, we are taught basic guidelines of civility.

Say ‘please’ when you want something and ‘thank you’ when you get it. Wait your turn. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Over the years those messages have evolved as society’s morals have shifted towards empathy and understanding.

Pink Shirt Day, for example, didn’t exist when I was a kid. The anti-bullying initiative was started in 2007 at a high school in Nova Scotia, where a grade nine student had been teased for wearing a pink polo shirt.

Since then, it has spread across Canada and beyond and become a high-profile statement against treating others badly.

Specially designed t-shirts are sold, events are planned and platitudes shared all in the name of kindness and compassion.

Looking around our community – all the way across our country, in fact – I have to wonder if the message of Pink Shirt Day is resonating the way it used to.

The arrival of COVID-19 two years ago, and everything that has transpired since has done great social damage to many communities.

Sadly, ours is no exception.

You only need to spend a few minutes scrolling through social media to witness incessant bickering, name-calling and insult-throwing between people who have different opinions relating to the pandemic.

That’s not to say that the internet was always a pleasant place prior to COVID. With the anonymity and perceived security that comes with online trash talk, cyberbullying has been a problem for years.

But the pandemic has really turned up the dial on the disrespectful and sometimes horrific way people interact with each other online when they’re at odds.

I’ll admit, I have nearly been sucked into mean-spirited comment wars with people with whom I vehemently disagree.

But I force myself to stop and consider: how would I feel if my son or daughter responded to someone in such a rude and unpleasant way?

We are our children’s biggest role models, and no matter how often we tell them that bullying is wrong, our actions – whether online or in-person – speak so much louder than words.

There’s no way we can expect our kids to treat each other with kindness and compassion when we are contributing to the hate and ugliness of the online world.

If we have any hope of brighter days ahead, we need to start stepping back from such petty quarrels and refocusing our energy on things that truly matter.

Melissa Smalley is a reporter for the 100 Mile Free Press.

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