Media not immune to online bullying

It really is amazing how brave people become when sitting behind a computer.

It must give certain people a sense of satisfaction to point out others’ flaws and/or differences – whether or not it is justified.

Incidents of online bullying can be seen on nearly everybody’s Facebook feed, on a nearly daily basis, and while Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook management team may talk the good talk when it comes to anti-cyber bullying campaigns, their actions rarely back up their claims.

You can report an instance of bullying, and they will “promise” to look into it – but unless it’s a shot against a major corporation (i.e. the video of Delta Air Lines staff trying to kick a family off a flight, which repeatedly gets spiked nearly as soon as it gets posted comes immediately to mind), getting anything done about “perceived” bullying is not easy.

Most Facebook users have undoubtedly come across photos of heavily pierced, heavily tattooed, or just plain heavy people, with the caption “describe this person in one word.”

Such posts quickly go viral, and most of the comments are pure vitriol.

Every time I see one of these posts, I do two things:

1- I respond with my one-word description: “happy,” “confident,” or “unique.”

2 – I post a short message to the author of the thread, asking what the purpose of the exercise is. I have never received a response to this.

I used to report such threads to Facebook management, but their response is generally a claim that the post is more of a “free speech” issue than a bullying issue.

That’s a fine line to walk.

The Comox Valley Record has been bullied a couple of times in the past week; once justified, once not.

First, there was a notice about a stolen truck, with a typo in the headline. Nothing brings out the grammar cops more quickly than a gassed headline. We owned up to it, and I actually posted a good-humoured message about how that error ended a streak of 49 years of perfection for me.

The second instance was a case of a letter to the editor that did not get printed.

The letter was in response to another letter that ran in the April 25 Record, calling out a political candidate.

There is one, and only one, reason the response letter did not get printed; it was never received.

Whether that error was on the part of the sender, or on the part of the new Black Press website design (the format the sender claimed to use), will never be known. All that is known is the letter was never received, so there was no chance of it running.

The author of the letter posted it on his blog, with the comment, “My letter was not published. I don’t know why…”

And the fireworks started.

Political “experts” hammered the Comox Valley Record, and Black Press, many posts declaring that it was because of our political views that the letter went unpublished.

This could not be further from the truth.

Not once did anyone bother to point out that there have been letters in this publication calling out nearly every candidate in the past month – and actually more calling out the local Liberal candidates than ones from any other party.

Odd, considering we were accused many times this weekend of being nothing more than a propaganda rag for the right.

A Liberal propaganda rag is not likely to give top billing to letters such as Clark’s mega-projects will produce mega-debt (May 4), Where does Benninger stand on these issues? (May 2), or Liberals not expected at forum on public education (April 20).

Other letters that ran in the past two weeks included, Letter writer takes issue with Pacific Rim Liberal candidate’s profession (May 2), and B.C. cannot withstand another four years of Liberal government (April 27).

Right-wing propaganda material? Hardly.

My main criteria when choosing whether or not a letter to the editor runs, is its value to the readers.

Is it topical? Is it well written? Will it incite reaction?

The unpublished letter that sparked the online attacks checked all three boxes. It was also time sensitive, which I do consider as well. (There’s no sense running a “pre-election” letter after May 9.)

Unfortunately, the first time I saw that letter was Saturday night, on a Facebook feed, calling me, and the paper, out for not running it.

The letter writer insists his blog was not posted with any malicious intent, and I believe him.

He simply wanted his letter read prior to the May 9 election.

When he saw that it wasn’t in the May 4 edition of The Record, he posted it on his blog. He did not jump to conclusions. Everyone else did.

So, to steal a line from Paul Harvey… “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record