The other day, I was reading about a planned visit by President Obama to the mudslide-devastated community of Oso, when I happened to scroll to the bottom of the page to read the comments. I’ve long been skeptical of most of the public comments and ‘facts’ I read on Web pages and social media, but this felt like a new low. From the very first comment, it was bickering, name calling, partisan fighting and point-scoring. Regardless of party, the fact that the leader of the nation is coming to pay respect and attention to this tragedy is noteworthy. The only dialogue we can have on this is a toxic one?
It’s getting to the point now that when my wife reads a national news story online, I try to convince her not to read the comments. They upset her so much. When did mainstream politics, and respect for America’s founding principles—that people of every opinion and belief can come together in one mutually beneficial society—give way to such rude discourse? Did it really take the 20-year-old invention of the Internet to destroy civic spirit?
A few years ago, the Valley Record switched to Facebook for its online comment system. This was somewhat controversial, as it meant you had to leave your name (and sign up for Facebook) to leave a comment. At the time, there was some criticism of this. But I can say with confidence today that it was the right thing to do.
People can still gripe or carp as well as praise on our page. But either way, their names are attached. They must stand behind their comments. So, there are much fewer of the kind of poisonous or paranoid rants (which you can get on all sides of the political spectrum) that you see out there. Thank goodness for that.
Today, when letter writing is becoming a lost art, I’m fascinated by the fact that you can have a conversation with a total stranger through social media.
Yet I think more people should consider what a good conversation entails: Honesty; a willingness to hear as well as speak; and respect for someone else’s viewpoint.
On the Record’s Facebook page, I’m pleased to report, there aren’t many of these nasty exchanges. There are excited shares, some news tips, thanks you’s and requests for votes in the Best of the Valley contest, sports notes from parents, links to conversations about local education and the arts, and fundraisers for good causes.
When I update our page, I try to post photos and news links that I think locals will find interesting and may want to share, positive or negative. Posts about well-known locals always get lots of likes. I speak from experience when I say that anything about Johnny Depp or other Hollywood celebrities visiting the Valley goes viral.
I urge you to have your say. If you’re on Facebook, check out our page, and leave us a note or a comment. People share information via our page regularly. It’s not just the editor’s page, it’s everybody’s.