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Posted: March 21, 2015

The social spread of hatred


By Stephanie Stevens

It is a bit like Old Yeller out there.

On Facebook I mean, and social media in general.

It started out well enough. Getting to see cute posts, photos of family, keep in touch with all sorts of people and participate in groups!

Yay! Ah, such fun.

But like many things, including lovely, unvaccinated yellow dogs, we seem to have a tiny problem.

Facebook appears to have developed rabies.

And it is running rampant, passed on in posts that promote hated and fear, intolerance and increased ignorance.

Take Islamophobia for example. Can you think of any better way for extremists to succeed than by having millions of people post messages of hatred and intolerance that prove their point that the non-believers must be exterminated?

Oh, well done.

Would not surprise me in the least to find out that most of the hate and fear inducing things originate from the extremists groups themselves.

After all, what better way to recruit than have the very people you hate do your promoting for you? And like the fearful Chicken Little we all run about with our wings a-flapping, terrified the sky is falling and making the entire situation significantly worse, especially for the majority of Muslims who frankly don’t have any use for the extremists either.

Get my drift? Somewhere there is an Islamic terror group, geek division, tapping their fingers together gleefully saying “Oh goodness! Look how they are falling for it! Now ALL the Muslim people will join our cause, now that they see how much the infidels hate us!”

Criminy. You have heard the term “playing into their hands,” yes?

The myriad of angles the entire Islamophobia issue brings up would fill volumes, and I am not here to argue the rhetoric of religion. I am, as we all are, horrified and angered by what has been happening in the world.

I will say, however, that the posts that bug me most are the ones angled towards, “If you don’t want to abide by Canadian Law, git out!”

Such short, convenient memories the masses have.

I had coffee the other day, with a First Nations friend, who can clearly recall what it was like to be taken from her family, forced to forsake her language and culture, and beaten if she dared mention any aspect of her own people’s religion. Forced, really, to abide by Christian faith, rather than the one her people had in place for centuries on this very land. What is done is done, but let’s not forget the past couple of centuries of change, murder, theft and devastation that occurred so recently on this continent.

Somehow we have once again managed to gloss over the centuries of harm, murder and degradation the Christian faith as perpetrated to masses of people. I don’t know of any faiths, except perhaps Buddhism, that have not committed atrocities at some point or another.

But again, I digress. Because my point, and I do have one, is this: Facebook has become a bit rabid, and it is being passed on quickly to many of its members.

Our outlook, our morality, our so-called patriotism; all are being affected.

Funny thing, that social media creature.

We entered into the age of the Internet a couple of decades ago. The original intent, I think, was to make information available to all at the touch of a keypad, to bring us closer together, to create better understanding.

We can see what is going on anywhere in the world at any given time.

But here is the rub; who do you believe?

There are lot of decent, reputable news and information agencies out there providing, as best they can, balanced, thoughtful, informative parcels of information so we can use our powers of rational thought to come to informed, intelligent conclusions. Of course, new information is always forthcoming, and even the best of the best can be misled or given false information. And we will not always agree.

But then there are the scary ones.

The (and I simply cannot call them journalistic) outlets that promote hatred, fear, uncertainty and paranoia. Or just plain stupid shite.

If I tried hard enough, argued strenuously enough, perhaps enhanced a few photos and quoted enough “sources,” I imagine I could convince you all that the real culprits of all war, terror, environmental degradation, social collapse and every other evil out there, are all courtesy of a secret society of people who few of us are aware of yet, led and masterminded by none other than the nefarious, impossible to kill, Grigori Rasputin.

Sound far-fetched?

Perhaps, but not nearly as far-fetched as some of the tripe I see out there. And I am not just talking about extremist groups now. I am talking about a lot of the stuff that is floating around out there like mines in the cyber-ocean. I swear to the Goddess if I see one more post about Michelle Obama really being a trans-sexual man I think I might scream. Because number one, I think it is idiotic, and number two, and more importantly, if she really is a trans-sexual man, I don’t care. Again… I digress.

And the even scarier part is that there are people who BELIEVE some of this stuff.

Because they have proof you know. Verifiable facts.

Facts become facts based solely on getting people to believe them.

Or are they more like an opinion?

Everyone has one, after all.

Take this column. This is what you call an “opinion piece” which gives me the ability to vent and express my opinion freely.

A news piece, as a journalist is taught in their first year of school, must, to the best of the writer’s ability, contain the who, what, when, where, why, as well as the various sides of each story. Your opinion, no matter what the issue, should not leak through.

Not so with social media. It is a massive free-for-all, with no moderators, no rules or guidelines, you can say whatever you like, manipulate in any direction.

Let me let you in on a little secret. Facts can be made up. Photos and videos can be altered dramatically. You will be outright lied to in order to further a cause. You, yourself, can be, and likely have been, manipulated.

It can, indeed, be difficult to know what to believe.

And another thing, you cannot fully comprehend something like, for example, the troubles in the Gaza Strip, from a Facebook post, short article, or even a long article, because it, like a great many situations facing our world, is a long and convoluted mess of issues that frankly take a lot of time and study to understand.

But don’t let that stop you.

By all means, hop on board, push share, click that link and promote hatred, fear, ignorance and intolerance. Play into the hands of terror and prejudice. Because that is your right. As a Canadian.

Or, here is a thought: colour me crazy, BUT… what if we stop with the relentless promotion of rabid negativity?

Unlike with Old Yeller, social media cyber-rabies cannot be dealt with using a bullet. But perhaps we can find a way to decrease the spread.

I am not saying stop reading. On the contrary, I am saying read more. From a variety of sources.

And then read more. And more. And while you read, remember. Remember the past. Remember it clearly and without ego. Remember it with clarity and, as best you can, with humility. Remember the good stuff, and remember the bad.

Because guess what folks? We are all in this together.

Stephanie Stevens is a journalist turned rancher living in the Columbia Valley.

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