Our Say | No-one wins in a social media uncivil war

THE great advantage of social media is its immediacy.

And the great disadvantage of social media is its immediacy.

Social media has sped our lives to a dizzying pace, giving us access to information from across the world at the very moment it happens.

News from the far corners of the globe is at our fingertips in a way that would have been considered science fiction only a decade or two ago.

But as we rush from piece of information to piece of information, are we also increasingly rushing to judgement?

When this newspaper posted a link on Facebook to a story on the Advocate website this week, the story itself was quite straightforward: the president of the cycling club had been asked – and had given – his opinion on the Roads and Maritime Services proposal to remove the famous tunnel of trees near Perthville.

The Advocate has been seeking to present as many opinions on the tree removal as possible and it was thought that the cycling club perspective would be worth hearing considering cyclists use that road.

The conversation that this story started on the Advocate Facebook page, however, quickly broke the boundaries of civility.

From inflammatory and provocative, comments degenerated into nasty, offensive and, finally, downright irresponsible.

Some of those commenting clearly had not read more than the first paragraph of the story.

Others had decided to wilfully misrepresent the story to stoke anger and stir up an online shouting match.

At least one person posted a (celebratory) photo of cyclists being hit by a car.

If you were looking for an example of the combustible nature of social media – what happens when you mix immediacy and keyboard anonymity and a lack of civility – you couldn’t get much better.

And yet what was achieved by all this sound and fury? What did those shouting and insulting hope would be the result? It was an ugly explosion of anger that flared briefly and, once the post was removed, disappeared into cyberspace. What was the point?

It would be a shame if, as our methods of communication change, we find ourselves forgetting how to have a normal discussion.

We’ve gained so much with the rise of social media. Let’s hope we don’t lose so much as well.