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

UPDATED: Police looking at other collisions linked to impaired driver who allegedly struck Langley 12-year-old

One of two Friday hit-and-runs the driver is believed to be part of, Langley police say

Burnouts stressing out Langley’s Cruise-In board

A board member said the charity car show can’t allow burnouts for safety reasons

Kwantlen artist sues Langley Township councillor for defamation

Facebook posts are at the heart of a lawsuit between Brandon Gabriel and Eric Woodward

Powder the muskets, zombies are coming!

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers up A Survivalist’s Guide to a Zombie Apocalypse, Sept. 28

VIDEO: Drone footage documents work to free salmon at Big Bar landslide

Video shows crews working to remove rocks and wood, and transporting salmon by helicopter

Defense says burden of proof not met in double murder case against Victoria father

Closing statements begin in trial for man accused of killing daughters Christmas 2017

B.C. dog breeder banned again after 46 dogs seized

The SPCA seized the animals from Terry Baker, 66, in February 2018

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

Three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

Vancouver police could be using drones to fight crime by end of year

The police department has already purchased three drones, as well as three others for training

B.C. party bus company to be monitored after 40 intoxicated teens found onboard

Police received tip teens and young adults were drinking on party buses and limousines in Surrey

Grand opening of Molson Coors Fraser Valley Brewery at Chilliwack cause for celebration

Ribbon-cutting with dignitaries, Molson brass and family marked the official grand opening

B.C. cabinet minister denies that Surrey mayor’s friend attended government meeting

Surrey councillor questions Vancouver businessman Bob Cheema’s involvement in official meeting

Most Read