As the weeks go by, I watch as people who never spoke up before come out of the woodwork to speak their minds about the treatment of indigenous people in north America. By and large, the comments that are posted to my blog and to Elyse’s blog are put up by earnest people who have taken a lot of time to seriously think about what they want to say, and who appear to want to make their views known to others.
When discussing the treatment of Indigenous peoples, my feeling is that what we are really talking about are human rights, of which civil rights are an important component. To see a whole segment of the population mistreated stirs up a plethora of emotions in me, and it is with much effort that I have to restrain and temper myself when writing about the constant and unrelenting abuse I see directed toward these people.
I am sure that other people writing other articles, or people who comment on articles, find themselves in a similar quandary. “Why can’t the government just understand? What’s the matter with these legislators? Why can’t people do what’s right? How can people be so hurtful?” we think to ourselves, although, in my mind, my thoughts are rife with words that are much more vulgar.
Yet, if those of us who want to see the civil and human rights of indigenous people honored and respected in the same way that the civil and human rights of white people are honored and respected, we must follow the rules of etiquette and decorum, maintain good literary posturing, and argue less from pure emotion than from common sense and logic.
Trust the trolls to come in and teach us further mental restraint and discipline.
Because Elyse and I are currently involved in a cooperative effort to shed light on the Idle No More movement, and because we have both written articles that appear on each other’s blogs, we often review pending comments about our articles together to decide whether they should be let through.
There have been many trolls who have attempted to post comments to the blog, and we have elected to keep their comments from appearing primarily because we want legitimate posters to make their comments in an environment free from hostility, free from bigotry, free from racism, free from prejudice.
What is a troll specifically?
I am not going to define the term, nor am I going to name names. But I would like to give one example of the types of comments that have been withheld from appearing on this blog. As a reader of the comment, you can judge for yourself whether the comment belongs in the realm of trolldom.
Before offering my opinion on the implications of this and similar comments to the blog, I feel it necessary to examine the structure and nature of the above example so that we can better postulate and theorize on the mindset of the one who authored it.
This person begins by saying, “Since I know you’re a polemicist who doesn’t post comments that fail to agree with your opinion …”
The problems with that assertion are multifold:
1) The person who attempted to post the comment does not know us either personally or professionally, so they cannot “know” anything about us. They can only “infer” and draw conclusions based upon what they see, and Elyse and I only allow the online world to see a very limited part of ourselves.
2) Neither Elyse nor myself publish opinions for the sake of being contradictory — thus we cannot be accused of being polemicists on that basis — nor is it true that we withhold comments with which we do not agree from publication. What can be stated is that we withhold statements in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth on our respective blogs.
3) That our opinions may in fact be contradictory to those of others happens from time to time, but it cannot be argued that our opinions are contrary to those of EVERYONE given that there are numerous people posting to the blog who are in agreement with our views. Thus, because our opinions are in agreement with many, we cannot be polemicists to THEM, can we?
“Since I know you’re a polemicist who doesn’t post comments that fail to agree with your opinion – as we’ve seen since other rather benign remarks of mine haven’t made your cut …”
1) What is or is not a benign remark is Elyse’s privilege, as well as mine, to determine.
2) There are other criteria for a comment not “making the cut” than whether a comment is benign.
“I’m going to say exactly what is on my mind knowing at least you’ll see it: You’re full of shit, and you know it. You’re rumour mongering and feeding into the fears of unsophisticated and uneducated people who hear these rumours and get scared.”
To which I say:
1) Prove that either of us are rumour mongering. Let’s see our accusers do the research for a change. And let’s have your quotes and citations come from reputable sources. If people reading this will notice, in cases where we talk about legislation, or an audit, or a study, we are less interested in what some editorialist has to say about the legislation, the audit, or the study, than what the documents themselves actually say. Thus we cite and link to the actual documents wherever possible. In this way, anyone is free to read them from beginning to end and draw their own conclusions about them. Likewise, when we quote someone as saying something, we draw attention to the source which quoted the speaker.
Stated differently: It is impossible to rumour monger when the source document is laid before the readers and the FACTS can be be seen by everyone.
2) To state or imply in as many words that our readership is unsophisticated and uneducated arrogates one to the position of being in a higher class of people. Those who actually exist in that higher class will have an understanding of etiquette, which intimates that it is poor form for someone to imply that others are not as sophisticated and educated as one’s self. From this we can interpret that the commentor is not a member of the sophisticated and educated class of people that he implies.
3) To state that people will read the alleged rumours and get scared presumes that our readership is of one quality and one quality only: The kind whose ONLY response to a perceived rumour is to be scared. In other words, it would appear that to the individual making the comment, our readership is weak.
“I would point out several factual errors in your post, but it won’t matter, since you won’t correct them.”
1) This is a convenient comment to make. It means the person making the comment does not have to expend the necessary effort to back up his or her assertions. It also presumes that we will not correct an error, and it fails to recognize the fact that we have corrected other errors made on this blog in the past … and thanked people for correcting us.
2) It connotes a victimhood that does not, in reality, exist. If the commentator asserts that what we are saying is wrong, take the source documents, read them, and find where we have misquoted them. Show us where our errors are. We will correct them, as we have done in the past.
“Speaking as a professional, lifetime journalist and publisher, I would categorize your material as scatology, and not just because it stinks, badly. I’ve kept a copy of this post should you try to excerpt or misquote to make trouble…not that a fine, truthseeking, honest and unbiased individual would do such a thing, oh no.”
1) This person might do well to reflect that “You’re full of shit” is not a comment often seen used by a “lifetime journalist and publisher.” Nor is it common among people with those skills to tack “oh no” on to the end of a sentence. Rather, “Oh, no” should be a separate sentence, many times with an exclamation point after it, as “Oh, no!” is a phrase used in exasperation.
2) Note the absence of a comma in the original “oh no.”
My point: It is far from right for someone to point out our supposed imperfections when his or her imperfections are so obvious and glaring.
Up until this point in time, we have been willing to ignore the errors of our familiar commentor-wanna-be to the blog, but it seems that as the number of comments we elect not to let through increases, the hostile verbiage this commentor uses seems to increase, and it has reached the point where it can no longer be ignored.
Why, you may ask?
Because Indigenous rights are a very serious issue, and it is a gross affront to all people — not just First Nations peoples — when people like the “lifetime journalist and publisher” above behaves in the manner exemplified above, in an attempt to distract us from the important task we have of bringing facts to light and keeping people informed. Were we to let comments like I have exemplified here through, what would the resulting effects be?
Would people feel as free to post their own facts?
Would they feel as free to offer their own opinions?
Wouldn’t they come to feel that our blogs were just as hostile as those websites and blogs who allow racist or bigoted comments, or hate speech to post in their comments sections?
We understand how frustrating it must be for people whose comments are not let through. I acknowledge that the things they say may be very important to them. How annoying it must be for them to see contrary opinions let through, while theirs get held back. And yet, when someone tries to claim that opinion is fact, that generalizations are fact, that disproved assertions are still valid, etc., there is no point in letting these types of comments through. They are either accidentally, or by design, inflammatory and counterproductive to the discussions taking place on the blogs.
Going forward, people whose posts have previously been denied would do well to reconsider what they write before they post, and they should also consider whether they should be criticizing themselves rather than Elyse and me for the failure of their comments to appear in publication.
Thomas D. Taylor