It’s no secret that I really don’t like Facebook; for all its benefits in keeping friends and family in touch and updated, there’s so much negativity, misinformation and plain nastiness there that I just stay away. But sometimes, I get sent something that has been posted about me, or this paper, or staff, and I feel that I have to respond, and this is one of those times.
The Times recently received a Letter to the Editor from someone who has been published here numerous times over the years. But this one was different: quite simply, had we printed it, both the Times and the writer would have been wide open to a lawsuit for libel. You just can’t accuse people in public life of accepting bribes and being corrupt unless you have solid evidence, or even the smallest bit of support for the accusation.
So the letter was not printed, and the writer just threw a hissy fit. As is now the usual response to anything that goes against someone’s wishes, the writer ran to Facebook to condemn the Editor of the Times, making the remarkable statement that “…now I know that I can’t write articles for the NG Times anymore as the paper is too close with Council.” There are at least two things that are wrong about that statement: no one has ever told that person that they can’t write for the Times again. After literally dozens of letters and articles published to date by this person, this seems a rather extreme reaction to one letter being rejected.
Of course, no context was given, no background or reason for the decision not to publish, just an aggrieved moan about how unfair it is, and all because the Times “is too close to Council”! Believe me, the decision not to publish was not to protect Council, it was to protect the Times and the writer from serious legal jeopardy, something not revealed in the Facebook posts.
Naturally, the usual suspects jumped into the fray, declaring that the Times “adores this council”. Interesting accusation to make from defeated candidates for Council, and it shows a remarkable ignorance of recent history in NG. Anyone who has been around for more than ten minutes will remember previous mayors and councils and the many, many attacks made on the Times and its predecessor. I have two favourites: one was when I was escorted out of a Council meeting for pointing out that the Mayor of the day was turning off the microphones of anyone he disagreed with. The other was when the previous Council to this one declared, in writing, that the NG Times was a threat to democracy in NG, and that neither the Times, nor anyone else in the community, had the right to question or criticise Council. And they put this in an article they submitted to the Times! Ah, those were the days!
Compared to some of those other councils, this one is relatively benign. No, we don’t “adore” them, and once or twice we’ve been criticised (on Facebook!) by members of the current council. I know that the current Editor has no personal relationship with anyone on Council, although my soul mate chats with many of them regularly; but then, she chats with half of NG regularly, so that means less than you’d think. Personally, I haven’t seen or spoken to the Mayor since the night of the election!
But, to go back to the main point: Facebook has become a place where people just shout into the ether about whatever upsets them. There are allegations without substance, gossip of a malevolent nature, group think where people talk to like-minded obsessives in their own personal echo chamber. Of course, there are some worthwhile uses for the platform, as long as it lets you access something other than what their algorithms select for you.
The kind of exchange of views that are exemplified by the ones I refer to here are all too common these days, and allow people to become vindictive, mean-spirited, and increasingly uncivilised and ignorant. They may be the kind of people Bob Dylan wrote about many years ago:
“Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press. Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out quick; but when they will I can only guess.
Idiot wind. Blowing through the buttons of our coat. Blowing through the letters that we wrote. Idiot wind. Blowing through the dust upon our shelves. We’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”
Is there any chance that we can, as a community, leave all that behind and learn to actually talk to each other again, to discuss differences and opinions rationally and sensibly? Or are we doomed to continue listening to the idiot wind?