Back when I started in the oilfield I was struck by how many oddballs I encountered and worked with. Strange views, strange habits and just general weirdness seemed to infect every person I met on an extended field program.
For my first few years in the field I wondered: “Does my industry attract lunatics or does it take normal people and turn them into lunatics?”
In time I figured it out. Both of my questions were wrong. The true answer is that everybody is damned weird. The difference was that when you worked in my part of the field, you would have the pleasure of literally spending 24 hours per day with people for months at a time. At the start of the 1990s it wasn’t uncommon to be stuffed into a 10×12 foot camp room with the same person you worked with during the day for months. The only way to get to know a stranger more intimately in a condensed period of time would be to be incarcerated with them.
When working in the normal 9-5 world you never really got to know just how weird your co-workers were. You didn’t see what they did on the weekends. You didn’t see what their bedtime rituals were or what odd things they did with themselves in the mornings. These people seemed perfectly normal and you lived in blissful ignorance of their weekend hobby of slathering themselves with tomato sauce while playing twister with fellow unicycle enthusiasts.
As with the oilfield which brought the oddness of people into sharper notice to co-workers, the internet has given lunatics a new platform to spread noise and let the world know just how crazy they are.
Twenty years ago you didn’t have to look far to find a self styled political expert who would work themselves into a lather until they said utterly inappropriate or even threatening things. You just had to go to the local bar. Every bar has one or even a number of chronics who will expound at drunken length about what is wrong with the world and how to fix it.
These drunken philosophers would be ignored by patrons and any slurred calls for hanging politicians or calling public figures offensive names would not be taken seriously. Eventually these folks would pass out, be carried home and would repeat the cycle in a day or so.
What is different today is that these annoying and offensive though usually harmless nuts have a whole new platform to use in order to spread their rambling. The internet has given the fools who couldn’t gather more than three people at a time to listen to their inane ramblings a tool where they can annoy and offend potentially thousands at a time. Even better, nutcases with foresight can create anonymous accounts so that they never have to face the consequences of anything they may say.
A glance at Facebook or Twitter is all one needs to see just how many of these keyboard cowboys are out there and how vocal they are. A glance at your own settings shows you how easy it is to block and mute these people as well.
Quit playing victim if you see something offensive online. Just block it for crying out loud.
As for actual threats, yes they are never acceptable and should never be totally dismissed. How many internet threats have actually ever translated into a real confrontation though? The reality is that the number of peckerheads to type out online threats who will actually leave the safety of their own basements in order to act upon them is miniscule.
Politicians do love using internet vitriol as an excuse to get out of things however. Career victim, Sandra Jansen is a great example. When it became abundantly clear that she couldn’t even meet the bar to enter the leadership race for the PC Party much less win it, she used internet vitriol and bullying as an excuse to drop out of the race. I don’t doubt that some abhorrent things were said about her and even sent to her. I don’t condone that kind of idiocy but really, it isn’t that tough to ignore and block it. Like it or not, enduring some of that is part of the job. People were just as bad 30 years ago but they rarely took time to put a pen to paper to send their thoughts out.
Shannon Phillips used the threat of fictional threats in order to get out of public consultation meetings that she didn’t want to hold. She lied repeatedly about RCMP involvement only to greatly embarrass herself. Supporters have since been screen capping online tweets of apparent threats in order to try and justify the cowardly cancellation of meetings. If any of those threats were of merit, we can rest assured that the RCMP will follow through and investigate these things. They don’t have time to track down every dolt who drank too many JagerBombs and tweeted out something stupid while seated on the toilet and the RCMP know these are not credible safety risks. All the same, increase security a bit and carry on. Mean tweets are not enough reason to cancel important meetings.
The internet is a wild west of commentary and information. There is some witty stuff, some deep stuff, some weird stuff and unfortunately some threatening and offensive stuff. The people who put that stuff out there have always been with us. They are among those co-workers who you work with 9-5 and that neighbor who you see watering his lawn. They are odd and annoying but present no real danger to you. The internet has exposed just how rude and disturbed some thinking is but it hasn’t created any more of it.
The world is no worse or dangerous than it ever was so click that mute button and get on with your life. It is much more respectable than playing victim.