Opinion: Attack the issues, not the individuals

The Internet can be a dark place for respectful conversation

Politicians and public figures are accustomed to criticism. They may not like it, but complaints come with the job.

Over the past few years, however, we’ve seen a disturbing trend. The anger has intensified, and the vitriol grown toxic.

It’s prompted at least one Lower Mainland mayor to declare that enough is enough.

John Becker, mayor of Pitt Meadows, says he’ll no longer allow his character to be sullied by unfair allegations. He’s vowing to fight back, even if it means legal action.

His anger follows news that Nicole Read, mayor of neighbouring Maple Ridge, actually missed council meetings after being alerted by RCMP that a threat had been made against her.

The source of much of this hate is social media – which can be anything but “social.”

Facebook and Twitter have become powerful tools in communication. Most of us use them, both personally and professionally. They’re great ways to stay informed and share thoughts and opinions.

But we’ve seen far too many examples where they’re used to spread hate and harm.

And the attacks aren’t limited to politicians, says Becker.

“To see this expanding into attacks on … my business. My children are attacked, my wife is attacked.”

Chilliwack is no stranger to this viciousness. In fact, Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz shut down her personal Facebook page several years ago, partly because of the anger that it drew.

Today there are several “private” Chilliwack Facebook groups where the tone is vicious and the accusations unsubstantiated.

Sociologists have written extensively about social media and the anonymity it provides. Things people won’t say to someone’s face are freely shared and cheered online. It’s a bully mentality, and standing up to that bully only draws more hate.

On the weekend I posted John Becker’s story from the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times on the Chilliwack Progress Facebook page. One person called him an “idiot.” A couple more told him to just do his job.

Criticism in public life is nothing new. But there is no place in our public discourse for personal attacks, where the intention is not to educate or inform, but to demean and denigrate.

We won’t tolerate bullies in the schoolyard; we shouldn’t tolerate them online. We don’t accept misogynous and racists rants in person; we shouldn’t accept them online.

The common wisdom is to ignore them. “Don’t feed the trolls,” is the usual advice.

But increasingly, people are starting to say that’s not enough. Celebrities are vowing to “out” their online attackers; politicians like Mayor Becker are threatening legal action. “…[T]hey’re doing it with impunity because no one else has had the guts to call them out and make them accountable,” he says.

We should be equally resolute. Having strong opinions is what makes a democracy strong. But let’s attack the issues, not the individuals.

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress

Just Posted

Giants ground Rockets in WHL action

Vancouver builds early lead, never looks back in 6-1 win at Langley Events Centre

VIDEO: emergency landing near Langley airport

Plane lost power during take-off

Crash on 200 Street in Langley Township

Report of traffic congestion following late morning accident

Surrey’s Justin Sourdif to debut for Vancouver Giants tonight in Langley

Last month, he suited up for Team BC in the WHL Cup and was named tournament all-star.

Heavy downpours expected in parts of Metro Vancouver

Heavy rain will begin to ease off Sunday evening as the frontal system moves south out of the area

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

Start on time: Canucks looking to shake first-period struggles

Canucks centre Bo Horvat said the formula for getting a leg up is there for everyone to see

COMMUTER ALERT: Snowfall warnings in effect across B.C.

Travelling this weekend? Check the forecasts before hitting the road

Drones take off to search for missing North Okanagan women

A volunteer search party was supported by professional drone operators

Tips for keeping your personal data safe, from the experts

It’s important to keep your ‘online footprint’ safe

Lights to turn blue ahead of funeral for fallen Abbotsford police officer

Buildings across B.C. are going blue Saturday night in honour of Const. John Davidson

Ride-share pioneer drives up quietly to B.C. battleground

Lyft approaches B.C. without Uber bombast, eyes small towns

Crash shuts down Highway 91 in Richmond for hours

The stretch of highway was closed for more than 6 hours due to a multi-vehicle accident

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

Most Read