“Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one” – A.J. Lieberling
As most Hickman County citizens know, anyone can now “own” a press. It’s called the Internet, more specifically “social networking.” This includes such things as Facebook, Twitter, and all the billions of blogs and web sites that now exist around the world.
There are even “news sites” and forums geared specifically to Centerville or Hickman County that operate with little or no oversight. Anyone can say anything they want about anyone else, no matter how vulgar or untrue, and hide behind a made-up tag or “handle” (as they used to be called in the big era of CB radio).
When it comes to “the real press” (radio, TV, newspapers and magazines, etc.) the rules are a bit different. We can run but we can’t hide. Publishers, editors, reporters and columnists can’t hide behind a phony name, nor do we want to. We’re expected to print the truth and we’re held accountable for our actions through libel and slander laws, which is as it should be.
Our editor, Brad Martin, does not want to promote these Internet sites that breed anonymous poison, and rightly so. He regards them as “the worst form of journalism.” I’d go a step further: I don’t consider it journalism at all, but backyard gossip. But because sites such as these are so popular, even within Hickman County, where there are tens of thousands of “posts”, if not more, it might be wise to deal with the topic generically.
Far too many people believe something is true, just because they saw it on the Internet. This was especially true during the presidential election, when all kinds of vicious lies and untruths were told about both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Our local officials, and even private citizens, are often the target of the same unfair treatment.
In “the real press” the editor has the job of sorting the wheat from the chaff. In the virtual world, this is sadly not true. I know. I’m the editor of two of these un-named “social networking sites” focused on Hickman County. I have no control over what people write there. I have no idea if it’s true or not. The best I can do is respond to something I know is untrue or, if I’m not sure, ask for proof, which as I write this I have never received. I can’t edit or delete a single word anyone writes once it’s thrown out there.
I can tell you some of it is very hateful and hurtful. Some of it is even, in my opinion, obscene or pornographic. Elected politicians or “public figures” often have no legal recourse under libel or slander laws. In most cases, there’s no point in trying because it’s not too different from negotiating with terrorists like the late Osama bin Laden. Why dignify it with a response, legal or otherwise? But, even to a thick-skinned politician or elected official, it can still hurt.
I recently spoke to a top local elected official I won’t name (because it was a private conversation) and learned that, yes, he does sometimes read the things he’s accused of, but not often. If it doesn’t hurt him, it can still hurt his family and friends.
That is not to say that corruption and crime does not exist in high circles. Past headlines in the Hickman County Times will confirm this. But those of us in “the real press” demand evidence, not angry rumor from, say, a convicted meth dealer who got caught and sent to jail where he belonged. Nearly every convict I have ever met always claimed they “got a bum rap” when in fact they were guilty as sin.
True injustice has always put a burr under my saddle and always will. If you have a complaint, provide the evidence and stand up to be counted, at least to me. I can understand someone being truly afraid of being harmed if their identity was known, but at some point we all have to be held accountable for our own actions.
So please don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, especially written anonymously. I’m from Missouri – show me!
©2012 by Jim Moore. All rights reserved.