More than a few times a day we head to our Facebook page where we can see, and moderate to a degree, what’s been said about our stories through comments on our website.
To be honest, it’s done defensively, almost with fear.
We are not afraid of any criticism of our stories — that comes with the territory. What makes us tremble is the possibility there will be a comment that’s libellous, in the pure legal sense of the word or hedging toward such an outcome. Or in poor taste. Or a personal attack. Or a comment filled with foul language. We have seen all of the above.
Often, we get ideas from the non-troubling comments, ways to advance or follow up on a story that we did not consider or did not have time to pursue. For that we are thankful.
But it’s the dark side we fear. There have been successful lawsuits against people who have posted libellous comments on Facebook and other social media sites, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone.
The problem is the lack of filters. Both personally (individual people who comment) and with so-called moderators.
Those who call themselves moderators usually lack any professional experience regarding libel. Or at least it looks that way. They tend to lean toward the free-speech, anything-goes model of public discussion.
That’s all well and good in theory, but what about real life? A store that one complains about might knee-jerk react to an inflammatory comment about its operations and put someone who supports a family out of a job. A person attacked may be struggling with mental health challenges and be pushed over the edge by mean-spirited comments.
Everything we publish goes through multiple sets of eyes before it hits the paper. Many of these eyeballs have decades of experience looking for the legal land mines of defamation. We also have an experienced media lawyer ready to take our call, and provide advice, at a moment’s notice. By no means is this absolutely foolproof or an exact science, but how many so-called moderators have those checks and balances?
Reports on the death of newspapers have been greatly exaggerated. We can’t speak about other markets, but the residents and businesses of Parksville Qualicum Beach continue to support this traditional form of media. We are humbled and grateful for that. As self-serving as this seems, we also believe that support keeps alive a more responsible, professional forum for public discourse.
— Editorial by John Harding