EDITORIAL: Democracy online

People can be rude. And that is doing serious damage to our democracy.

People can be rude. And that is doing serious damage to our democracy.

They hide behind the anonymity of social media and fire hurtful barbs at those in power. Oh, they may put their name to their comments, but they certainly don’t deliver their critiques face-to-face.

And these words hurt.

An expert on municipal government says in a story in today’s paper this kind of culture change is one of the reasons why more than a quarter of all towns, cities and regional districts in this province have searched for a new chief administrative officer (CAO) this year.

The Town of Qualicum Beach (less than two years ago), Parksville (this year), the Regional District of Nanaimo (this year), the City of Nanaimo (this year) and Lantzville (this year): CAO turnover in all of the communities within 30 km of Parksville’s world-famous beach.

Perhaps you believe a thick skin should be a qualification for a top job at city hall that carries a salary of $150,000 or more. Perhaps you believe the trend being noted where councils are digging into more detail, getting more involved in the day-to-day operations of municipalities, is a good one.

Councillors and mayors are accountable to the taxpayer. If there’s a sense the taxpayer (voter) wants councillors and mayors to pay more attention to the details of municipal operations, the politicians are likely to conduct themselves in that manner.

So, staff are under a microscope from politicians while getting hammered online by the proverbial guy in his boxers with a laptop in his mother’s basement. Hmmm, $150,000/year doesn’t sound like that much anymore.

What’s worse is how irresponsible, unaccountable social media comments are affecting the quality of the pool of people who would seek office.

What person in their right mind would take that kind abuse for a town councillor’s salary? The answer to that, sadly, is someone who has an ego to feed or a specific agenda to push or a personal axe to grind with another councillor or group of councillors.

Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights in our society. Like all freedoms and rights, it should not be employed in a manner that restricts the freedoms and rights of others. As long as there continues to be no reprisals, no accountability, the social media free-for-all that’s prevalent now has a chance to seriously erode our democracy.

— Editorial by John Harding

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