In 140 characters or less.  The speed with which basic civility becomes a victim of a thug mugging in the back alley of cyber communication.

 Disagree with an expressed point of view?  Assume a virtual identity and whether on Twitter, Facebook, or other immediately available social media, launch an insult-laden assault, dripping with sarcasm and loaded with invective. 

 This triggers a response in which the original issue is forgotten and the exchange morphs into a multiple participants series of personal attacks which in a real world face-to-face encounter would likely result in the proverbial punch in the mouth. 

 On social media though, the rules of engagement are whatever those involved decide they should be.  How often have you listened to, read or watched commentary on a news development devolve from interesting to sarcastic, to degrading?

 I live in the world of talk radio.  It has been my universe for twenty-five years.  In 1990, talk radio defined the line between acceptable and disturbed.  Talk radio was where self-indulgent trolls, with literally no other option to gain public attention, would occasionally appear, intent on derailing an engaging discussion or debate   Since we were on either a seven or thirty second delay I would hear the rant, the curse, the sometimes ugly vitriol, press the appropriately labeled ‘dump’ button and not a word uttered would make it from my headset to your speakers.

 Fortunately, the occasions we used the dump button were very few.  Because?  Callers to radio talk shows were most frequently genuinely engaged in debating issues, and the cloak of cyber anonymity wasn’t yet available. 

 Besides, call in and if you did sneak something blatantly outrageous past either my producer and/or me (we both were equipped with dump buttons) what you were saying didn’t have the potential to reach a global audience and there was a very good chance someone would recognize your voice.  Your mother maybe.

 In 2015, I still have a dump button and I use it even more rarely.   Because?  Callers continue to be interested in discussing/debating issues and for those otherwise inclined, access to the internet and social media are instantly available 24/7.   

 It’s not just words.  Social media sites have been used to coordinate rioting, spontaneous mob assaults on retail outlets, or to post images of ugly anti-social acts. Want to watch a bullying incident? For the purpose this column I briefly visited YouTube and typed “bullying” into the site’s search engine. Within seconds many choices of video featuring bullies beating and of bullies being beaten were available.  The numbers of views of these sites were big.

 Why do people become rude on social media?  Why are long term friendships dissolved on social media?  Research suggests if our online persona is accepted, as in a large number of ‘friends’ on Facebook, we become impressed with ourselves and that in turn lowers our inhibition levels.

 It’s time to park the insults, innuendo and trash posting.  If you wouldn’t have the courage to say in person what you’re posting, then you know what you are.

Written by: Roy Green

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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