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Russell Wangersky: The cycle of hate continues on Twitter

"As comments cycle in, each one ever more hateful, they build the collective rage," Russell Wangersky writes of reaction on social media. — Stock photo
"As comments cycle in, each one ever more hateful, they build the collective rage," Russell Wangersky writes of social media reaction.

Nora Loreto is having a rough week.

On April 8, she tweeted about the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that killed 16 hockey players and staff, saying, “I’m trying to not get cynical about what is a totally devastating tragedy but the maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are, of course, playing a significant role.”

Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

It’s a tweet that had more than 8 million views by Thursday morning, and showed no sign of slowing down.

The outrage was predictable; suffice to say, if you haven’t read that tweet already, it might well enrage you now.

But put your rage on hold for a second.

In some ways, it’s a legitimate question, although the timing was abysmally poorly chosen.

It’s a question that can be asked about a lot of things: would the public reaction to the Challenger explosion have been different if Christa McAuliffe hadn’t been on board? (She was to have been the first teacher and the first civilian is space; because of that almost 17 per cent of the population of the United States was watching live coverage of the Challenger launch.)

Would the reaction of Canadians to the brain cancer diagnosis and subsequent death of a band’s lead singer have been different if the band didn’t happen to be The Tragically Hip, and the lead singer wasn’t Gord Downie?

Would your reaction be different — would it be more intense — if your friends and neighbours, Frank and Heather, died in a house fire, or if two people in an Indigenous community in Labrador — strangers to you — died in a house fire?

The answer to a lot of those things is “yes.”

People tend to react more to things that happen to connect to their lives more directly. You more easily put on the shoes you recognize.

But welcome to life in a feedback loop. It’s not enough anymore to politely raise an issue or to politely disagree, let alone to ponder carefully whether the time is right to make your point.

The implication of widespread racism and sexism in the original tweet — the “whiteness,” the “maleness” — certainly doesn’t help. There’s nothing like being told your public grief is raw proof of something dark in your soul.

But welcome to life in a feedback loop. It’s not enough anymore to politely raise an issue or to politely disagree, let alone to ponder carefully whether the time is right to make your point. You have to make it loud and fast so it will be heard above the everyday clatter — something that both Loreto and those responding to her are, consciously or unconsciously, taking part in.

Everybody has your home address on Twitter or Facebook, and if they don’t, the ravening horde is right there on your timeline to share it with you. As comments cycle in, each one ever more hateful, they build the collective rage. New entrants have to be even more outlandishly angry to be heard. At first, people called Loreto insensitive; then, they wanted her fired. Then, she should never work in the media again, and finally, many suggested she should be dead.

I’ve been writing for over 30 years, and I’ve made big mistakes. I’ve covered things too soon and too harshly, and people have called me on it. In the past, those calls were letters or telephone calls. There is nothing worse than receiving a personal call from someone you respect, especially when you can hear the clear disappointment in their voice. Those are the complaints that have changed me — made me more thoughtful and, I hope, better at what I do.

Ten years ago, a mentor might have said to Nora Loreto, “You have a point, but on this one, at this time in the debate, you have a tin ear.” After all, isn’t she actually guilty of the same thing she’s accusing others of — guilty of ignoring the pain and suffering of a group she feels distanced from?

But there’s no discussion — just ever-increasing hate.

If all we do is yell into the feedback loop, we’ll never change anything.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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