Tuesday, May 26, 2020

From the Editor's Desk

The perks and pits of social media

Social media is a great thing.
And a terrible thing.
We live in a time where information can be spread to literally thousands of people within a few minutes. Even in small, rural communities like Stillwater.
That reality was very helpful a few weekends back when a sudden blast of winter weather turned I-90 into a crash fest. Semis and passenger cars crashed into guardrails, each other and off the roadway time and time again, sending law enforcement, medical, fire and tow truck crews out and in harm’s way.
Through the News’ Facebook page, we were able to let folks know how treacherous it was and to stay put. The post reached 19,000 people and was shared 164 times. That’s substantial for a county with a population that does not yet tip the 10,000-population mark.
This is a great benefit of social media. The distribution of accurate, time-sensitive information to help keep people safe.
And then there’s the other side of social media. The ugly side. The irresponsible side that involves people commenting and speculating on posts that they have no actual knowledge about. Serious comments. Hurtful comment. Damaging comments.
I got a taste of this just a few weeks back on a personal level.
It involved a news article from a different paper shared on a friend’s Facebook about a gruesome murder in Gallatin County. Below the article was a speculative comment about a 30-minute delay from when the murder occurred to when the murder victim’s wife sought help from a neighbor.
Based solely on what the article had contained, someone commented that the wife should be charged with murder as well because of the time delay.
I understood the observation. But there was a reason for that time delay.
The murder victim’s wife suffers from dementia. This was not disclosed in the court documents the article was based on because at that point, it was not important to the actual crime.
I know this because I know the family. While I can understand someone wondering about the time delay, I was angry that it was put into words in such a public way by someone who had no idea what the entire picture was. It’s the last thing that family needed.
And that’s my point. It’s easy to read something and react quickly. That’s the very reason it is always wise to not write — or speak — when you are emotional about something. You might say or write something you later regret. When you put those reactions into words in a public forum, the stakes are even higher. The truth is, none of us know the entire circumstance of any situation, unless it is our own situation.
It’s a good lesson of which to be reminded. To be mindful of our words. To know for certain what we put into writing. And to pause before expressing ourselves publicly.