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FOULDS: Would you say that in the company of your mom?

At its best, social media is a marvel of information and connectivity. At its worst, social media is a tool used by many to play the bully they are never brave enough to display in the real world
Foulds column head

Numerous news websites have advisories next to the comments section, asking readers who post their thoughts to do so with class and respect.

Many ask readers to think before they respond to stories with their comments, to consider if what they are about to post would be something they would be comfortable saying in front of their mom or dad, their child or their spouse.

In other words, add to the debate with intelligence, facts, passion — and wit and humour, if so inclined. But do not merely attack others with vile insults.

Unfortunately, too many keyboard warriors — many of them hiding behind fake names — have ignored such basic and understandable requests and continue to lash out without regard for the decency deserved by the subjects of their ire, be it a subject of an article or a government department involved in an issue.

(If those keyboard cowards are as uncouth, vile and bullying in front of their parents, kids or spouses, obviously social media decorum deficiency is not their primary problem.)

As such, the City of Kamloops’ decision last week to suspend commenting on its Facebook page was not surprisingly.

“The decline in civility on the City’s public Facebook page affects many things, including our staff’s mental health, job seekers’ perception of Kamloops, the spread of misinformation and participation levels from those respectful users who are interested in understanding information about our programs and services,” the city explained.

The city’s decision is not unusual. The CBC in 2015 suspended all online comments on Indigenous-related stories, having had enough of racist nonsense being posted. Last year, the CBC made permanent (aside from a few exceptions) a trial run of closing commenting on its Facebook pages, citing as a reason “an inordinate amount of hate, abuse, misogyny and threats in the comments under our stories. Our story subjects were attacked. Other commenters were attacked. Our journalists were attacked. Misinformation and disinformation were rife.”

Many other news agencies did likewise on their own websites, including Kamloops This Week (in February 2019), Reuters, Victoria Times-Colonist, National Public Radio, Popular Science, The Atlantic, CNN and ESPN. They, like us, did so because anonymous posts seem to bring out the very worst in people and tend to germinate so much crap in a cesspool of stupidity.

While there were some intelligent conversation created, too many submissions posted to our commenting platform for review consisted of insults, non-constructive criticism and an attention-seeking nastiness devoid of dialogue-building. While every comment for the KTW website was reviewed before appearing online, moderating the comments was a time-consuming process — and time not well spent considering the paucity of comments that added to the conversation in an intelligent, thoughtful manner.

There’s a reason letters to the editor pages in newspapers and magazines require writers to state their names and provide proof of their identify to us by way of names, addresses and phone numbers. Such a requirement guarantees the missives are well thought out and bereft of hate and abuse. Only in the rarest of occasions — perhaps letters from sexual assault victims or people recovering from addiction — do letters get published without a name attached.

Unlike the CBC, however, KTW and others have continued with commenting on Facebook pages, as these third-party social media sites do not require in-house moderation, have filters to help weed out certain offensive words and have followers who often make us aware of posts that may warrant our review.

At its best, social media is a marvel. On Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, you can gain access to an untold amount of information and literally connect with the world. At its worst, social media is a tool used by many to play the bully they are never brave enough to display in the real world.

Thank you for reading KTW and contributing to the discussion in these pages and on our social media channels of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Reading thoughtful prose in this age of accelerating rage is indeed a pleasure.

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds