Social media discourse: Don’t feed the trolls

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – Monday, the 16th. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come to this community, just outside Halifax in the eastern part of the country, for a town hall with members of the public to discuss various aspects of policy, as well as the future.

In line is Erin Moore, a journalism instructor at Nova Scotia Community College, and her 7 year old son, Oliver. Her students are inside covering the town hall for an assignment. Her son had seen protesters, some protesting a work stoppage by teachers in the province, others protesting Trudeau’s policies.

Moore rarely tweets on a personal basis, but got someone to take a photo of her and her son at the rally.  She saw it as an opportunity to teach him about protesting and rights as a citizen. She tweeted it and tagged Trudeau.

It got retweeted by his chief of staff, but then got tweeted out by Ezra Levant, a Conservative commentator in the country who owns and operates the web site The Rebel Media.

Moore was then subjected to tweets from his followers, described in this interview with the Canadian public broadcaster CBC, and by the time all was said and done, she had become part of the story.

Moore, in a telephone interview with SPJ, said though she wasn’t threatened or upset by the remarks, being on the other end of the story was something unexpected.

“I loathe the journalists’ idea of being part of the story,” Moore said.

Moore said though that she wanted to speak out, especially as its an issue she discusses with her students, particularly as the issue of social media and news consumption has become a central part of the discussion on the future of journalism.

Social media has become prominent in informing and engaging audiences, but must be done with caution. (Photo: Pixabay)

She says that young journalists need to look at this as a challenge, and that it serves as a reminder for them to remember the principles surrounding journalism ethics, in an age where competition is rife to get the story out there first.

Yet, the bigger concern, Moore says, is the ability to hold politicians to account, saying that there are instances where the media has been regurgitating the official line instead of questioning it.

“There are different things at play, but when you’ve got advertisers and certain politicians who play well to advertisers, are you going to hold them to account, piss them off and they won’t appear, or not challenge it and let the ratings rise?” Moore said.

That also includes informing on social media, even though information is being posted and may bring on the response. Though she did not face the worst of trolling compared to other situations, Moore advises not to respond to trolls, and has a teachable example when it comes to engaging audiences.

“I have a personal example that can serve as a warning that you can set yourself up for,” Moore said. “I don’t want people to be dissuaded to go into journalism because of trolling.”

Moore says in the end, it also reinforces the need of developing a thick skin.

“Your voices are needed – they are important,” Moore said. “You never are on the deserving end, but if you enter the profession at this point, it will be something to consider. You need to be able to deal with it and not lose focus on the bigger issue – telling stories.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributor to the SPJ blog network. He also is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Generation J Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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