A world of danger in social media sites

A TIFF emerged last week between Bowman MP Andrew Laming and former MP Peter Dowling.

What made it unusual was that it was two people from the same side of politics belting each other on that most public of places, the internet.

They put their comments up on the Redland City Bulletin Facebook page and, judging by the negative reactions they drew, likely attracted attention which neither wanted.

It illustrated the curse of social media. It is just so easy to post something that might later be regretted.

Many people post material on Facebook, Twitter and social media pages run by various activist groups, that they either know to be incorrect or which is simply their opinion armed by assumptions and paraded as fact.

Of late, Redland City councillors Julie Talty and Tracey Huges have felt the wrath of these keyboard warriors.

Some comments are incisive, some funny, some irrational but there are many that seemingly seek only to be hurtful.

Politicians must accept scrutiny and even criticism but some people go too far, even risking defamation action.

Politicians are community leaders who decide how taxpayers’ money is spent and, as such, they must expect to have their decisions questioned, even pilloried.

They also are paid via the public purse, further increasing examination and, perhaps, raising a little jealousy in the breasts of some people.

The State Ombudsman said in his report into council’s unreasonable pursuit of people who were critical of its operations on Facebook that council decisions can be particularly contentious but noted that it is important to our system of democracy that alternate views be aired.

Importantly, the ombudsman also pointed out that there needs to be a balance between the free exchange of opinions and ideas and the right of individuals to protect their reputations from unfair criticism.

So maybe it’s time that everyone on these social media sites takes a breath and pulls back. Maybe the old-fashioned idea of not writing a letter of complaint until you have had time to mull over the consequences of your words should be the general rule of thumb, especially for Laming and Dowling.

It’s also time for those who seek to denigrate individuals rather than adding to a debate to pause and think about their own conduct.