TORONTO — Combine violent terrorism, politics, and the 24-hour news cycle and you’ve got the ideal recipe for a social media storm.
The aftermath of the Paris and Beirut attacks are just another example of how situations like this can bring out the best — and more often the worst — in people on social media.
Toronto Facebook user Marcie Pekar said she had to discuss the content of several Facebook profiles with her teenaged kids in the hours and days after the attacks, explaining that the views expressed in them were not okay.
Pekar describes reading several posts containing “immediate anti-Muslim propaganda, and the fostering of hate and the perpetuation of hate.”
“I unfollowed a few people,” she said. “I’m not interested in seeing the ignorance and fear and hate.”
She’s not the only one.
Chances are you’ve probably heard someone over the last week talk about “unfriending” or blocking at least a handful of people over their online comments.
Many used the medium of social media itself to announce their personal cull of friends and followers.
Gina Cosentino, a Canadian expat now living in Washington, D.C., said she blocked at least a half dozen Facebook friends. Some she’d known for as long as 15 years.
As someone who works in the field of social justice, she said she was disgusted by attacks she read against Muslims and Syrian refugees.
“It felt violent even just to read them. It just was awful and discouraging,” Cosentino said in a Skype interview.
Toronto-based social media specialist Randall Craig said people sometimes don’t understand just how big of an audience they have on social media, and underestimate the impact of their words.
“Sometimes people feel that they can say something in an unfiltered way on social media because they’re not actually saying it to a real person,” he said.
If that unfiltered talk is strong enough, it can get you in legal trouble. Though it can also be a complicated process.
“If there are threats involved in that type of speech, you could see a prosecution for threatening death for example…there could be computer crimes that could be levied against somebody who is involved in electronic hate speech,” said criminal laywer Boris Bytensky.
“And then the hate component would be reflected on sentence.”
The perpetrator would also have to be located in Canada. The whole experience has left a bad taste in the mouth of some social media users.
“Frankly, I am rethinking Facebook in general,” said Pekar.
“I see the value and the benefit, but I’m increasingly becoming more frustrated.”