If we give in to fiction instead of fact, and vitriol instead of verification, we all lose.
By Erin Moore for the Halifax Examiner
I took my seven-year-old son to see Justin Trudeau on Monday night. One of my hopes as a parent is that my son takes an interest in politics as a way to help him understand why things are how they are in his city, province, country, and planet. I want him to become an engaged and informed citizen and to understand the role he can play if he’s not happy with the direction things are going.
So we stood in the cold for more than an hour in a line that snaked the entire way around the Dartmouth Sportsplex. I hate the cold and wanted to bail but it was a rare educational opportunity for Oliver. While we stood there, rubbing our mittened hands together, hundreds of teachers walked by us carrying picket signs. He recognized his teacher from last year and they waved at each other.
He asked me why they were protesting and I explained how it connected to the current work-to-rule campaign. Then we saw teenagers with bandanas over their mouths holding signs that opposed pipeline construction. I explained that many people are against the decisions prime ministers make and peaceful protest is a protected part of living in a democracy. People are allowed to disagree, loudly, without risking going to jail. That spawned a lot more questions on his part.
I wanted to remember the night. I was so impressed by his questions and his desire to wait in the cold. So I got the woman standing behind us to take a photo. Then I did something I almost never do. I tweeted it. Normally, my Twitter account is for professional tweets only. But I decided to put this one out there:
What happened next occurred because of my other role. Along with being Oliver’s mom, I’m also a journalism instructor at the Nova Scotia Community College. In fact, several of my students were at the event covering it for class. But the fact that I took my son to see the prime minister called my journalistic credibility into question for Ezra Levant, former Sun News Network pundit and current commentator for conservative news site Rebel Media.
Levant retweeted my photo with the caption “Journalism Instructor” in quotation marks then pinned it to his feed for his 94-thousand followers. The implication I’m guessing is that I couldn’t possibly have journalistic integrity if I took my child to a Liberal event. I must be a Liberal supporter. I must be biased. The trolls saw red meat and fought each other to feast on it first. Finally warm inside the arena, my Twitter account started blowing up with mostly anonymous users calling me a child abuser, a bad mother, and a bitch. Hundreds of them. They’re still coming.
I responded to Levant with the following:
Then I stopped responding and it was hard. I was being attacked for my politics, my professionalism, and my parenting by people who don’t know a thing about any of them.
That’s how trolling works of course and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. No one threatened to rape or murder me as so often happens to women online.
But it made me think a lot about the Oxford dictionary’s newest word: post-truth.
Somehow, what was actually going on in that photo didn’t matter at all. The fact was that as a mother I wanted my child to see the democratically-elected leader of our country answer questions by both supporters and opponents without a script. As a journalist and journalism instructor, holding those in power to account is a fundamental part of the job. In the town hall setting ordinary people, non-journalists, had the same opportunity to hold Justin Trudeau to account. What a thing for a child to witness.
But never mind the truth. To the trolls, and to Levant, that photo was an example of liberal bias in the media and of a bad mother forcing her child to risk frostbite so he could get indoctrinated by socialist propaganda. Sigh.
Some of my students have asked me why journalism and the pursuit of truth even matters if we’ve truly entered an era of post-truth. My response is that it matters now more than ever, that pursing truth is still an essential service in a democracy and that holding those in power to account has never been so important.
If we give in to fiction instead of fact, and vitriol instead of verification, we all lose because we’ll all be less-informed when it comes to making important decisions about our lives. That’s something that as both a journalism instructor and as a mom, I’m working hard to prevent.