KAMLOOPS — I am not an expert in social media. There are those I work with who understand this better than I. The need to publish all our thoughts, all our emotions, all the details of our life, to a universe that is largely unfeeling, largely uncaring, and fraught with danger.
Social media, and there are many faces, have proven to be tremendous communication tools. The idea of instantly communicating information, even more quickly than dialing a phone number, has caught on with younger demographics in a way that no one foresaw, except perhaps the few who pushed forward the development of Facebook, Twitter, etc, because they saw what could be accomplished. Marvelous tools, to say the least. Sitting in a room late at night texting back and forth to friends, talking to people all over the world in a protected atmosphere. Sending pictures back and forth to relatives we may never have the opportunity to see in person.
But they are more than that. They are an opportunity to do just as much harm as good. Cyberbullying is just one example. Being able to target someone whose emotions are at the edge, harassing them to the point of suicide, tearing them apart systematically using hurtful words, often with no remorse. Because social media is an impersonal demon that allows us to say things before thinking, before understanding the harm that can be done. Tearing someone’s reputation apart with ignorant comments that have no basis in fact.
As one of the people in our newsroom charged with monitoring the comments on our Facebook and web sites, I am constantly shocked by the ignorance of the morons who make arbitrary comments without thinking of the consequences. Stories about crime are the worst. Someone may be getting investigated for something - “kill the bastard” say some, “must have been a drug addict or drunk or a sociopath or whatever” say others. They have no idea what they’re talking about, comments are made with no basis in fact, and if you delete their comment because they’ve libeled someone, they are irate because you’ve taken away their God-given right to say whatever they want. Look at the threads on just about any Facebook page you wish, and you’ll see plenty of examples.
And we’ve had a number of examples in recent weeks of how thoughtless postings can cause havoc in a person’s life. People who post a picture of themselves without thinking of the ramifications. Who make comments without thinking who they’re hurting. The list is endless. People have destroyed their careers, and even their lives, by one posting. Because once it’s out there, it’s never going away.
Now this doesn’t mean that we should kill social media for its bad side. But we do have to have greater control over how it’s used, and we need the ability to track down those who abuse it. Otherwise it becomes a demon running rampant, tearing down and destroying all in its path. We learned during the U.S. election this year how social media can affect the thoughts of the public. And while free speech should be entrenched as an inalienable right, does that right extend to destruction of a person’s name or reputation, or, in the ultimate, their life?