Nastiness is not useful nor inevitable

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Added: Wed, 01/30/2019 - 3:39pm
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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Driving up the 148 through the Municipality of Pontiac and into Shawville, and reflecting on some of the news from both municipalities, it occurred to me that the battlefield that much of social media has become is not limited to the US and the Trump fantasia. If social media actually reflected its community, there’d have been signs of battles all along the 148.  But ... just snow.
None of us are protected from seeing the nastiness that social media exposes and emboldens in our modern times. Our times aren’t so modern, is what social media actually tells us.
Of course, social media is complex and has multiple uses and serves many
purposes, from the darkest to, I presume, the most helpful. But its million messages of everyday news and greetings are easily displaced by the antisemitism, racial hatred, xenophobia (towards immigrants), Islamophobia, misogyny, tribalism and general stupidity on display on too many postings. 
We aren’t in Charleston, Burma, Sri Lanka, Brazil or Hungary, but this mis-use of communications technology does extend here; it was literally going on around
the highway I was driving up last week.
The Municipality of Pontiac is rife with charges and accusations thrown at the municipality’s new mayor and council – and thrown back. The motivation for these assaults is difficult to understand. Yes, these folks lost the municipal election to a new group (of fellow-citizens), but that rarely causes such rancour and sheer dumbness elsewhere. Maybe it’s simply that the huge, cobbled-together Municipality of Pontiac is ungovernable.
And Shawville suffers the indignities of a vocal group of Islamophobes who see the town’s only new industrial venture in years as catering to “creeping Sharia law” - because it needs Muslim butchers for its Halal market. Good thing they are not
producing Kosher meats. Imagine the antisemitism!
Fortunately these two examples of media mis-use are not common across our region, even if they are standard fare for much social media in Trump’s world.
Social media takes its name “social” from the fact that this technology allows virtually everyone with a phone and plan to connect and to react –instantly- to anything. It does not refer to social as sociable, helping people get along and live
better. In these destructive uses, social media seems something to hide behind, not something which liberates, connects or assists. Hide one’s identity and conspire with like-minded denizens - that’s hardly sociable. And if they aren’t hiding behind nicknames or disguised addresses, why not use more traditional, public open-air media?
Because traditional media is slower? Because it requires good grammar and spelling? Or because it means being reviewed by a copy-editor for correct writing and general decency? Given the witches’ brew of much social media, clearly it’s not the slowness and space constraints of traditional media that these groups find objectionable.
In fact, in the case of Pontiac municipality’s trolls, this newspaper was told to bug off and “not report” on council decisions at all – by a dissident councillor! Professional, copy-edited and reviewed messaging is not what these small minds want. They seek to hide their identities as much as possible and be free to throw whatever exaggerations and inflammatory statements they feel like heaving at their neighbours.
We can all do much better. Even those doing this battling can serve their goals better in the long run by observing standards of clarity, honesty, and responsibility. Such standards are not exclusive to traditional media, for sure, but they are usually enforced there. 
A vigorous but respectful and inquiring attitude is the key for a community
to move forward, to make improvements, and to correct mistakes or injustices. Traditional media is far from supporting the status quo! 
We owe it to our future – even these bitter participants – to insist on a mediated,
refereed media with journalists who do not take sides and who know how to ask helpful questions and seek out useful information. Shouldn’t social media be for just being sociable? Shouldn’t we use public, double-checked media for the serious subjects?
Those of us on the sidelines, driving through, don’t help things if we ourselves click into this toxic mix. Mud sticks to everyone using it.