KIDDING AROUND: Caveat emptor for online comments

Free flow of communication has its benefits and drawbacks.

Steve Kidd is the senior reporter and arts and entertainment editor at the Penticton Western News

Steve Kidd is the senior reporter and arts and entertainment editor at the Penticton Western News

Like the laser and the transistor, the Internet has changed how we interact with the world in more ways than could have been imagined when the idea of a global network was dreamed up in 1962, or even in the ‘90s, when the public usage began to grow.

I like technology, and so, I have to admit I find most of those changes for the better. Especially since much of the change has to do with enabling people to communicate and exchange ideas in an easier way which also speaks to me as a journalist.

But that free flow of communication, where anyone can become a publisher overnight just by signing up for a WordPress blog, has its drawbacks as well. The ability for people to comment on anything, anytime and share their opinion and thoughts is a wonderful freedom.

But every so often you come across a commenter who is confusing opinion with fact, deliberately spreading misinformation or twisting facts to support their position. Or simply passing along information they believe to be true, but has no basis in reality.

Like one poster replying to a story on smart meters, concerned that the eventual plan is to turn up the radiation coming from the meters and kill off 80 per cent of the world population, as part of some Big Brother/Illuminati plan to control the world.

Sadly, I think the poster was sincere in his beliefs, even though there are so many things wrong with the statement that it would take a book to discuss them all.

It comes back to a concept well known to con men and hucksters of many stripes. If you say something with enough authority and repeat it often enough, people will believe, regardless of whether there is any substance.

Chem trails come under this heading too… the internet has created a forum for conspiracy nuts to pass around their theories (which often contradict each other) so much so that they have taken on an aura of reliability, despite not having any facts. (And yes, I am opening myself up for a deluge of commentary by denying that one. So be it. Contrails are water vapour, not a global plan by the elite to eliminate the rest of us — poisoning the water supply would be so much simpler and cost-effective.

Then there are those that play the game of slightly twisting the facts. A recent story on Three Mile Beach drew a post that characterized one of the opponents to it being a naturist beach as having a narrow-minded, thin lipped and holier than thou attitude.

Sounds pretty puritanical doesn’t it? While I’ve only exchanged a few words with the man in question, I would say that he seems an affable enough guy.

Other than concerns about drawing undesirable elements, the issue of morality in relation to the naturists using Three Mile Beach hasn’t been raised. The issues revolve around property rights, property values and whether Three Mile Beach is an appropriate spot for clothing optional activities.

But with those few words, this poster creates an impression that their opponent is against the beach because of personal beliefs, rather than simply being able to sell his property for the maximum dollar value, something that trespassing and other activities of the naturists tend to put a crimp in.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for hearing back from our readers and our websites being a place for people to gather virtually and gossip, exchange ideas and learn.

I just hope that as the Internet and communications continue to evolve, common sense and critical thinking keep pace.

Steve Kidd is the senior reporter and arts and entertainment editor at the Penticton Western News