Opinion Column

Social media shouldn't be your panic button

 Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

If your first thought or reaction when something bad happens is to go post on social media, you should probably back away from the keyboard.

Better yet, go one step further and log out. Take a deep breath, a nap, a hot shower and calm down before arming yourself with a digital pitchfork to go after the online target du jour.

If you’re still bothered by the situation, take a few minutes to do your research and gather the facts, rather than hitting social media up like it’s a panic button.

I shouldn’t have to say this. I shouldn’t have to say this to people decades my senior, but typing up a rant on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media outlet does nothing but rile the general public up over what is often inaccurate or incomplete hearsay.

Rarely does a reaction like that ever solve or address the issue. More often than not, it perpetuates it. It causes panic over an issue that may very well be a non-issue or misunderstanding.

This happens daily in communities everywhere. A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in Wetaskiwin where a perceived threat to a local school turned out to be a threat to one in an entirely different province that had been dealt with.

This past week, however, a fairly major example of this happened in Lacombe.

Word of a threat posted to the social media app Snapchat by students at Lacombe Composite High School went got out.

Staff notified the Lacombe Police Service and two youth, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, were arrested without incident.

However, word of this threat then reached parents, who then took to social media via the Lacombe rants page to swear and slam people for not knowing about an incident they said involved gun threats. Soon, the situation blew up. While I deliberately avoid rants pages to eliminate the noise of misinformation, too many people, clearly, don’t.

I understand a threat of gun violence and school shootings is incredibly scary for anyone. I don’t think I went through a year of high school at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School myself where there wasn’t a bomb threat, or shooting threat (a gun was once found overlooking the school, or so some said) or something that evacuated the school. I certainly don’t blame anyone for being upset or fearing for their loved ones safety, because I’m sure I was the most paranoid student at the school when something like that ever happened.

Still, no one ever had the immediate reaction to post to Facebook and Twitter. The situations were always resolved without incident, and there wasn’t a mob of parents tearing down school administration over threats that turned out to be non-threats or threats that never even existed.

As it turns out, the situation in Lacombe didn’t involve arrests over gun violence, so posts on social media did little more than perpetuate panic, which is never OK.

What also isn’t OK is the fact such a case can see students, administration and even the parents of the youth involved persecuted via social media whether what is being posted online is true or not. Twitter and Facebook almost become a sort of digital courtroom made up of vigilantes who throw “innocent until proven guilty” and real evidence and process out the window in favour of opinions and hearsay.

This is a real problem, because it can affect the mental health of those involved whether they’re guilty of what they’re being persecuted for online or not, and what’s posted online doesn’t go away even if it is proven to be untrue.

I’ve been asked a time or two why the Lacombe Globe doesn’t publish Letters to the Editor. We do, it’s just people now prefer to use social media as their loudspeaker than a newspaper to voice their thoughts or opinions as events happen. People want instant gratification of having their voice heard as soon as they hit enter, rather than having a delay between hitting send and the letter being published in the next issue.

There’s a reason for delay - it allows time for fact-checking, the correction of grammar, but also diminishes the likelihood of others jumping all over hearsay as though it’s gospel. It minimizes someone getting bullied or persecuted instantly and constantly over something that may or may not be true. It gives time for us to edit - or the writer to edit their own work.

With social media, people need to learn how to become their own moderators and editors.

To put it bluntly, check yourself before you wreck yourself (and others).

Resist the urge to press that digital panic button.

-abarrett@postmedia.com 



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