Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner March 3, 2021
Let’s start with three jokes. That’s how we should start each day. That and meditation. Laugh heartily, then go on to the serious stuff. Look in any direction and you’ll see the worrying stuff. But with the laughter and the silence, you’ll be the stronger.
First the funny: From Twitter: “Looks as if Colin Kaepernick, Dr. Fauci and Hillary Clinton were right all along.”
From Facebook: “I haven’t been out in a while. Does anyone know if Eaton’s, Consumers Distributing and Blockbuster still have the same hours?”
Another wit responds: “Same hours as Zellers.”
Finally, don’t, whatever you do, miss James Corden and celebrity cook Gordon Ramsay conducting their Master Chef contest for Seniors. On YouTube.
Next, the worrying. We are still absorbing what just happened to threaten democracy in the U.S. What a close call. How off-balance are those millions of Americans who have accepted the lies spun by amoral leaders and amplified by amoral media?
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes that when Donald Trump is charged with conspiracy to subvert the Constitution, Fox News should be charged as a co-conspirator, so harmful has this “news” channel become.
In Canada, voices of alarm are being raised about some Conservative members (Derek Sloan), and now Cheryl Gallant (Pembroke-Renfrew), who make outrageous charges about their political opponents. There is the National Post newspaper, celebrating nonsensical writers such as Conrad Black, and now Rex Murphy. There is Rebel Media. The Proud Boys are labelled a terrorist organization. There is Lifesite News. All ours.
I took part in a webinar on this problem recently, sponsored by the voluntary group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, and convened by its able director, Daniel Bernhard.
It was about Canadian delusion and nastiness. Two UBC professors, Heidi Tworek and Chris Denove, reported on their study of Twitter posts over a two-month period during the federal election of 2019. The messages were directed at the five national leaders. The researchers examined one million of these posts and found only 7 per cent were positive. Sixteen percent were abusive and the rest, highly negative. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was mentioned 51,000 times and Andrew Scheer 23,000.
A few were “probably illegal, really poisonous,” said Denove. “Most were antagonistic. We need to realize that these messages are not just a platform problem, but reflect the wider Canadian society.”
If we slide down this path of ugly public speech, by which anonymous, online haters discourage good people from entering politics, we will be poorer in every way. Most of the vile messages have to do with one’s identity. Many are sexist and many racist. Another dangerous effect of them is that they trigger off-kilter people, to be inspired to act out their hate for others.
Yet, 64 percent of Canadians agree that online harassment and threats are a threat to democracy. The challenge is to curb them: to get the algorithms under control. Governments everywhere are pondering what rules to bring in.
MP Iqra Khalid, chair of the House of Commons Committee on Justice, said that the dilemma is to find the balance between “free speech and safe space.” America clearly hasn’t got that balance yet. Charlie Angus, the thoughtful NDP member from northern Ontario, spoke of the breakdown of public conversation and his own experience bringing in police to curb a stalker. He fears some dreadful future event such as the murder of British MP Jo Cox, in 2016.
There is a difference between “awful but lawful” remarks, he said, and illegal calls for violence. Bob Zimmer, an MP from B.C., works on designing mechanisms for enforcement.
I looked up “algorithms.” It comes from mathematics and computer science: “a set of rules, well-defined instructions; like a recipe.” When we click on a social media platform, an algorithm calculates our action so that advertisers can pitch products to us according to our interests.
Clicking is “a political act,” says Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a public theologian and columnist. We need to take that in, and praise and practice civil speech.
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