LETTER: Alternative media should not be demonized

I read with some confusion Rob Murphy’s December attack on social media.

Dear Editor:

I read with some confusion Rob Murphy’s December attack on social media.

He was referring to debates that emerged on Facebook recently concerning changes and turmoil inside the Summerland Museum, which he equated with “public shaming” and “conspiracy theory.”

It should be noted the museum debate was not at that time being discussed in Summerland’s paper of record, thus discussion was taking place in Summerland’s largest Facebook forum dedicated to town history.

I do not want to get into the whole traditional media versus new media debate, suffice to say that it has become de rigueur in newspapers to demonize social media, probably because it is a threat to the survival of the newspaper industry.

I cannot count the number of opinion pieces I have read in newspapers that read almost exactly like Mr. Murphy’s, painting social media as a mob-ruled hive of chaos and misinformation.

But social media is actually a wonderful thing. Social media allows the public to assemble in cyberspace and discuss openly issues that interest or concern them.

Debate no longer has to be limited to the voices of one or two handpicked individuals.

Murphy’s unresearched op-ed piece is a perfect example of why social media is needed. Had he troubled himself to interview all parties involved in the museum debate or whether the questions being asked were justified, Murphy might have found some troubling facts at the foundation of the debate.

But he chose not to do that.

Murphy claimed that he was “not here to pass judgement one way or the other,” but then proceeded to pass judgement declaring the critics of the museum’s new approach “conspiracy theorists” peddling ideas with “no basis in fact,” and that they are “bullies” that intimidate and shame those that disagree with them into a fearful silence. He does not say what facts were wrong, nor does he cite any instances of intimidation designed to silence people; he arbitrarily declares this all to be true.

But when people ask questions or make suggestions regarding an institution their tax money has funded, it is not “public shaming” it is “public accountability.”

With publicly funded institutions everybody should be able to speak out, not just the editor and advertising staff at the paper, and social media allows this to happen.

Much like a debate filled town hall meeting, all kinds of things will be said and in some cases inappropriate things, but that is what happens in open democratic forums. It is part of the process of free debate.

As for the parties being questioned, if somebody does not want to answer questions from the public, I would suggest they avoid employment running a publicly funded institution.

Murphy’s article is, in my opinion, just the latest in a long line of hyperbole designed to make people think social media is a den of intellectual bullies bent on emotionally savaging and terrorizing average citizens who dare to express contrary opinions, unlike the fair and unbiased newspaper industry.

Social media has its failings, but so does the newspaper industry. Ultimately the two forms of media can feed and support each other, but it has to be allowed to happen and the process of demonizing social media needs to stop, because social media is not going anywhere.

Rick Selinger