In the 2-year run-up to the last US elections, social media memes became progressively more absurd and mean-spirited. I felt concern but studiously avoided comments for either party or candidate. As a Canadian, I thought it inappropriate to comment – even though some messages were unquestionably hurtful and others clearly false. I now know I made the wrong decision.
Over the past few months, we’ve learned that hateful messages can spread far beyond US borders and affect societies around the world if left unchecked. There have been recent examples of shootings of people targeted as Muslims in the USA and elsewhere.
You probably heard of the tragic shooting of 14 innocent Muslims at prayer in Quebec City in January. Six hardworking, productive immigrants to Canada were killed, and eight others were seriously injured. Police quickly arrested the sole suspect in the shooting. He’s a Quebecois student, born in Canada and attending one of its best universities.
His arrest concerns me, and it should concern all of us. His situation is probably complex and likely involves multiple contributing factors. We’ll learn much more over the next few years, but we should be aware of two disturbing pieces of evidence we know already. First, he recently started visiting several extremely intolerant websites that received lots of free publicity during and after the US elections. Second, his social media posts suggest he developed a great admiration for the new US president during the recent election campaign.
I don’t suggest the president or his followers directly motivated his action. I do suggest the demonization and hatred towards Muslims created during the campaign -- and spread in some supporter’s Facebook messages -- probably helped one individual to rationalize that he was justified committing such a horrible crime. Repeated, hateful and intolerant messages have unleashed forces that spread far beyond American politics and are now negatively impacting thoughts -- and possibly actions -- of people around the world.
Some experts believe the continuing barrage of inaccurate, intolerant, and thinly-veiled racist social media messages may be poisoning the logical thought process of a generation. We now also know that governments – Russia and possibly China – are funding and encouraging false information to sow seeds of mistrust and confusion in Western societies and even try to influence the outcome of democratic elections.
In a recent Toronto Star article (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2017/03/01/why-is-finland-better-at-fending-off-russian-linked-fake-news.html) we learn that Finland has -- for years --successfully fought Russian disinformation by constantly emphasizing critical thinking skills in their schools. The Finnish government also encourages its citizens to think logically when they encounter such messages and challenge all claims that are hurtful, inaccurate or untrue.
I’ve decided to adopt the same posture with social media memes. I’ve started to confront wrong and biased messages when they appear on my Facebook feed and I’ll continue to do this. I want us all to remember that truth and accuracy is crucial in communication. I’ll also remind my friends that demonization of any person or group is wrong. Full stop.
I encourage you to do the same with your social media feeds and join my personal battle for tolerance, truth, and civility. When you see a claim that seems odd, check the facts with www.snopes.com or any reputable media source that publishes a real paper newspaper. They have people and processes to check facts and sort out misinformation every day.
If a meme is questionable, take time to think about it. Please don’t ‘like’ or ‘share’ it unless you are sure of the facts and are prepared to defend the statement. Otherwise, you can expect me to take you to task – challenging misinformation or biased statements. In this way, we keep our social media civil, tolerant and fair.
As I pursue these goals, I’ll try to be reasonable and fair with my questions and comments. I’ve spent a lifetime making friends and building relationships, so my goal is not to embarrass or make anyone uncomfortable. But, should this quest for fairness offend you, I guess you always have an option to “unfriend” me, either on Facebook or in person. I really hope that won’t happen. It would be sad, but “c’est la vie!” To keep our social media useful, it really is up to us.
Dictionaries might define the word ‘rendezvous’ as a meeting with someone that is arranged for a particular time and place (and that is often secret); or a place where people agree to meet at a particular time; or perhaps a place where many people go to spend time. Here, Rendezvous is a place where we can share information and get to know each other better.