Editorial

If you don’t have something nice to say....

It’s a good thought but not one to which people generally adhere.

Recently a group of parents won a lawsuit against people who harassed them incessantly, claiming those parents made up the fact that their children were killed in a mass shooting.

Those were the parents of 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook. Some of them had spent years ignoring people claiming they were “crisis actors,” according to an Associated Press report.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a situation where not only was your child murdered in a place they were supposed to be safe, but then someone had the utter gall to claim you’d made it up?

In at least one case, a family moved from Connecticut to the West Coast in order to get away from the harassment. But their harassers found the family’s address and the harassment continued.

“He would get letters from people who found his address. He was once stopped in a parking garage by a man who berated him and said the shooting never happened,” a report by Pat Eaton-Robb stated about a father who lost his child.

The internet could be an amazing thing. It could be if people would let it. It’s a wild west of information, most of it unvetted, and parts of it have run rampant. In this case the internet and social media websites have become a place for extremists to gather and find supporters.

We’ve seen a rise in hate groups, we’ve seen a rise in political extremists, we’ve seen a rise in conspiracy theory-mongering. Why? Stepping away from the original meaning of John Donne’s poem — it’s because no man is an island.

There will always be, and have always been, people with crazy ideas, but technology has brought them together. They can freely congregate and publish their views without the worry of repercussion for the most part. The more extreme the views, the darker the internet becomes.

That level of crazy appears to have elevated.

Only after lawsuits have been filed and the word went out on “mainstream media” reports have some social media sites changed their tune ... well, at least partially.

Some social media platforms have denied some extremists their venue. But it’s taken a long time. Only this month did YouTube announce it would deny access to those who use their site to deny the Sandy Hook shooting or other “well-documented events” as the writer put it.

The Sandy Hook shooting took place in 2012 — side note, it’s 2019. The families of children who were murdered have been harassed for years while companies have turned a blind eye to what they’ve allowed to be published.

The actions of the harassers are reprehensible, but the companies who allowed it to happen while looking the other way also hold a share of the blame.

Primary sources

We could all do better about vetting our sources of information.

In a column by Rob Tornoe at Editor and Publisher he speaks about journalists who use social media as the primary source for their work being at risk of falling for actual fake news.

The internet and social media websites could be such an amazing thing — and truly sometimes are — but those who speak the loudest in an attempt to drown everyone else out are often the ones who are heard.

Tornoe also wrote about the perception of extremism being exaggerated by social media. One piece he quoted was by New York Times data reporters Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy. In that piece they showed how Democrats on Twitter specifically are largely dominated by “outspoken progressive activists” but those who typically post political content online “are outnumbered roughly 2-to-1 by more moderate and diverse Democrats.”

On a similar note, it’s fair to assume that’s the same for the presence of moderate Republicans being overshadowed by those in their party with more partisan or extreme views.

At the Rome News-Tribune, we attempt to use standards of decency when publishing our newspaper and at times journalists need to be reminded to stick to those standards. There are specific things we, as a newspaper, can be sued for.

Certainly in the past newspapers have stepped over the line of decency. At times people used our judicial system to fight back, as they should. A recent story about the lynching of Leo Frank, a man who was accused of murdering a girl in 1913, cites an over-zealous and anti-Semitic newspaper publisher as a major factor for Frank’s killing.

That’s also absolutely reprehensible and should never have been done.

There are many things we use to determine what goes in our newspaper. Are people talking about this event? Does this event affect many people in our coverage area? Is this something our readers should know about our area?

Please understand this isn’t a rant about the superiority of print newspapers to digital news outlets — there are many who strive to produce accurate, fair and amazing content — this is about those who maliciously or out of sheer laziness spread falsehoods.

But with the advent of social media it’s no longer up to just journalists to fact-check the information that is spread. You’re now responsible. If you share a story on your personal page, please check it. If it seems outlandish — it very likely could be. If it comes from a web source you don’t trust, don’t share it. There are many, many websites just designed to misinform. Why would they do that? Some for political gain, others to sway you to their side and some just for the purpose to delude or prank people.

Be wary of the source of your information. It’s so important.

As for us, we’re striving to produce original and factual local news. Along the way we’ll make mistakes, we are human. But we will work hard to give you the best information we can get in a timely manner. That’s our goal.