Editorial – Be wary of social media content that tries to hijack tragedies

Mac Olsen

First, it was the tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team that we had to endure.

Now, it’s the murder of 10 people and injury of 14 others in the van rampage that took place in Toronto last week.

On April 23, Alek Minassian allegedly drove a van along several sidewalks in Toronto, causing these deaths and injuries.

He was arrested that day after being stopped by police. The following day, Minassian was charged in court with 10 counts of murder and 14 counts of attempted murder.

The investigation will be long and complicated, but experts in terrorism interviewed by the media are urging caution in how to interpret Minassian’s act.

There are allegations that Minassian participated in a social media group known as “incel,” an acronym for “involuntary celibate.”

Although its usage has a more enlightened, congenial message, its darker connotation is to blame women for men being involuntarily celibate and that they should be “punished” for this.

But as James Cantor of the Toronto Sexuality Centre told CTV News last week, it’s too early to extrapolate any significant meaning from Minassian’s social media post.

“This is a group of people who usually lack sufficient social skills and they find themselves very, very frustrated. But now that it is so easy for groups like this to gather together in large groups, people who have very poor social skills, this becomes their only means of social input,” said Cantor.

Nonetheless, that these social media groups organize and carry on with impunity is concerning.

Social media providers should report them to the authorities and then close them down when the users resort to intimidation or violence. Social media providers have a fiduciary duty to pre-empt and contain such activities when peoples’ safety comes into play.

At the other end of the social media spectrum are the hate and fear mongers who try to exploit tragedies such as the one in Toronto.

Last week, I came across a posting on Facebook about the Toronto tragedy, stating that the person who carried out the van attack was a “Syrian refugee,” when in fact Minassian was born in Canada and lived Richmond Hill, part of the GTA, the Greater Toronto Area.

I offered a scathing reply to the person who posted that message, telling them they should get their facts straight and not use fear and hate mongering on Facebook.

True, this isn’t the only posting I’ve seen on Facebook promoting misinformation, fear and hate mongering, especially regarding Muslims.

I normally ignore these postings, knowing they are false and generated by those who fear and hate what they do not understand.

But I felt posting misinformation about the Toronto tragedy required a response.

No one should try to exploit a tragedy for personal gratification or to provoke hatred against a specific person, group, culture or religion. It is unconscionable and destructive.


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