Editorial: An Open Letter to the Keyboard Commandos

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To those on social media who believe they can say anything they want and believe there are no consequences to opinions expressed, I urge you to look in the mirror and invest spending time on learning some self-control while becoming self-aware of what you are actually sharing with the world.

Yes, this is America and Freedom of Speech is very important, however, it is not a free pass to intentionally try and hurt others through verbal attacks, foul language and belittling someone for whatever reason. Intentionally spreading false information also falls under that category as well.

Social Media platforms are wonderful and convenient tools that have helped people across the world share information quickly. Unfortunately, it seems too often in recent months some have forgotten how to behave and be a good human being.

Just because you have an opinion, it does not mean the entire world needs to hear it, especially if it’s at the expense of someone else. Sometimes, things are better left unsaid.

I have observed many comments lately that have intentionally tried to hurt, embarrass or tear somebody down for no reason other than sheer meanness based on an instant reaction versus truly thinking about something with thought—and that is not even including trolls who simply post just to get a reaction at all costs.

Please, I urge those of you who use our social media pages to realize all comments have an impact on others and could have unintended negative consequences to the health and safety of someone. There is no need to project authority through self-righteousness, self-entitled and smug attitudes.

That is counterproductive to our community.

Instead, I would hope we begin to have better dialogue and conversation that even when we may disagree, it can be respectful, be educational, and in the end two people can agree to disagree while moving on as opposed to letting personal attacks fly.

While some may claim I am being too sensitive, that is not the case. The forums were created to provide information to local news, information and happenings. Nowhere does it entitle anyone to have free reign on attacking others for whatever the reason may be. This is not a Freedom of Speech issue nor is it an attempt to silence people.

It’s a “doing the right thing” issue.

It’s about demanding more from our audience in terms of the interactions being shared. To find ways to build up one another or local businesses as opposed to tearing them down—do we really need to know how poorly you think of a restaurant when the topic is their kitchen just burnt down? Just because you disagree with someone does not automatically qualify someone as “dumb” and “stupid”.

It saddens me that it appears the rhetoric of national politics are entering Contra Costa County and a free-for-all of communication is becoming more brazen, more aggressive and less respectful to other people’s opinions as time goes on. It is as if people have been given permission to become jerks at the expense of others.

On Friday, rather than babysitting our audience and removing comments from a post after a fatal motorcycle crash, the decision to delete the entire thread was made. This was not something taken lightly. In the end, deletion was an easy decision because it was the right thing to do after so much hate and erroneous behavior occurred. In four years of running EastCountyToday out of all the accidents and crime, I’ve never seen a post go so negative and so mean so quickly.

When posts comments get that out of line, it’s not worth any amount of clicks or responses—my thoughts go to the family who had to read them. I truly apologize to the family and friends who had to view such juvenile behavior from adults.

In the future, comment sections that get out of line, the entire thread will be deleted regardless of the information in the article–that is what our website can be for.

Some may say why even post fatal crashes or shootings in the first place. The simple answer is this site puts out local information happening in real time. Others take the stance that even though our information is legitimate, because they don’t like it the information is dismissed as either fake news or sensationalism simply because they disagree and it’s a standard response and easy comment to make with no substance behind it.

Much like first responders, I realize that news media typically arrives to incidents and reports on the worst day of someone’s life. Over the last four years, I’ve worked to change the way we cover incidents from being in ones face to showing more compassion—this is all based on consistent feedback from our readers.

I will be the first to admit the site is not perfect, but we are always learning. In terms of how we manage our social media, there is clearly room for improvement and more comments should have been deleted and some photographs probably should have remained on our memory card versus on social media–the ban button will soon become our friend to combat the few who are out of control with reckless comments. To those families where poor moderation of comments have occurred, I sincerely apologize.

As stated above, information is put out to try and inform the community of what is going on at any given time. I also realize not everyone appreciates the information because it does have an impact on local families and friends of those involved in an incident.  It is a fine line at times.

When it comes to politics, it is no secret we are a divided nation with extreme opinions on both sides, but it still does not mean we can’t be respectful of other people’s views.

EastCountyToday is run on a skeleton crew of a couple people who do freelance work and myself—that is it.  The focus has been on producing content, not babysitting social media comments of a few people who cannot control themselves.

Since late last year, comments from our readers requested an alternative to viewing comments. Some requested they be shut off, others requested people be banned, etc. Others simply admitted to reading the information posted but ignoring all the comments—thus, why we update within the original post versus within the comment section.

In fact, the ECTNow App was created because many of our readers wanted the information without the comments.  That App is an option for some.

As someone who firmly believes in the benefits of social media and built a business on the back of it, I urge people to think about what they are saying before hitting “post”.

We are now in a society that is obsessed with clicks, views, and being “internet famous”. You don’t have to be bold and go negative just to be noticed—I did that and realized that was a bad idea. Instead, focus on good and powerful content that is backed by ideas and fact.

After all, the truth is always undefeated, no matter who tries to fight it.

Before posting, I urge you to become more self-aware and to follow some simple tips:

  1. You are not anonymous: Unless you create a fake account or have up-to-date privacy settings, we know who you are and what you look like. We also can see your friends, network and even where you work. If we can see it, so can employers.
  2. What do you hope to achieve? Are you adding to a topic or simply attempting to get a reaction? I understand a lot of responses are emotional, but take a quick second and ask yourself why you even feel the need to respond if you have nothing constructive to say. If you have something productive to add, by all means go for it, but don’t go into “troll” mode.
  3. The Grandma Rule: Thank you “Happy Medic” for this. Don’t put on social media something you wouldn’t show or tell Grandma. If she wouldn’t approve, perhaps it’s not a good idea to post that in the first place.
  4. Online vs. Face-to-Face: There are a lot of brave souls online. If you were out in public would you say the same hurtful things to people in their presence? If you are not prepared to get your teeth knocked in when around people. Treat online postings the same way. There is no such thing as online security; you may actually run into the people you hurt.
  5. Spreading Fake Information & rumors: Simply put… why? In the end, you are only killing your own credibility which could hurt you in social settings and with employment.

 While these tips are common sense, hopefully they resonate with some in an effort to clean-up the negativity online. Remember, you never truly know what people are going through and what could set them off. Could you live the consequence of knowing someone hurt themselves over a post you made? I would hope that would not feel good when the police knock on your door.

I realize not everyone likes or even appreciates EastCountyToday. I get it is not for everyone and that is fine, if you believe you can do a better job, knock yourself out. Use other news media if you prefer it, but there is no need to be a keyboard commando, online warrior, or become a online bully to people simply because you disagree.

It’s time we stop taking the easy way out with instant criticism. Instead, take the time to become part of the solution and improve our community with fact based, thought provoking comments and leave the drama out of it.

Lets work to build up the community, not continue to tear each other down.

Mike Burkholder
Publisher of EastCountyToday

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16 COMMENTS

  1. I dont know what the comments looked like, but I can imagine. I was about to post something along those lines but decided to keep looking for a new car. Here is a simple question for you. If that idiot would have killed an innocent person and received the same amount of negative comments, would you still delete the entire thread? Karmas a bitch isnt it.

  2. Not all speech is protected by the Constitution. Yelling “Fire” in a theater is illegal. Make death threats toward the President of the United States will get you a visit from the Secret Service and I guarantee the Service has no sense of humor.

  3. Thank you for keeping us up to date on local news , I really appreciate it. There isn’t much of a local news paper anymore and I like knowing what’s going on in my community. It have a firm belief if you have nothing informative, constructive,and nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Please keep up the good work. My only complaint would be is that I don’t see a lot about what’s happening in Pittsburg.

  4. This editorial has been needed for quite some time. Lots of stupid comments that do not even relate to articles are posted because people don’t care. I can only hope it changes, but doubt it will. Very nice commentary.

    I don’t use Facebook anymore, but I can only imagine how bad they have gotten.

  5. Keep up the good work. Dont let the few people with their insane, insensitive comments, ruin it for all of us.

  6. Great piece. wish others such as clay cord etc would also feel that way. People who are anonymous think they can say whatever hateful and mean things that they want because most of us won’t know who said them. But you know who they really are. Funny not one of them would say any of those things to peoples faces. No more anonymous postings might help curb some of this stuff.Thanks

  7. Mike, thank you. You have written a well thought out opinion. The concept of free speech is maligned when folks believe they should have unlimited access to comment. However, constitutional free speech is ONLY protected when the government tries to impose their will on anyone voicing their opinion. As news publisher and a private business, you are under no obligation to post any comments or opinions other than your own. When you do, it is a courtesy extended to your readership. Nothing more. And, that courtesy is a precious gift. A gift that some feel the need to abuse.

    Keep doing what you do so well. I have a subscription to your smartphone app and it works very well to keep me informed with local news. That is all I really need.

  8. First-time here for me. Your article was great and very timely. I see this type of behavior in all social media including the Nextdoor app! I hope that your article does some good and I will be praying it does. I just happened to hear about this site and once I visited, I bookmarked it for timely news that I can’t get anywhere else! Thank you for doing what you do and for speaking up.

  9. The easiest way to keep from ending up in this position is to insist that comments be civil and on topic, no profanity from the beginning, and hold readers to that standard. Most sites are just concerned about traffic. I hope your readers take you seriously.

    Thank you for sharing your opinion Mr. Burkholder. Keep up the good work. Good luck!

  10. Civility is underrated. Let’s speak to and about one another as if we were standing in front of someone we care about and want them to care about us. Just be nice. And be respectful of those who have passed on and their families.
    Thanks for saying this Mike.

  11. Unfortunately the people who do this won’t change thier behavior and they won’t go away anytime soon. The type of person who does this won’t read your wonderful appropriate heartfelt letter and are incapable of caring what thier words do. It’s sad but reality of the internet.

    As someone that has been a moderator to a few boards over the last 15 years (believe it or not, the same behavior was present back then too!), the only thing I have seen that keeps down the nastiness is moderate the account for the first dozen posts (don’t tell them that though). Then you get at least a feel for the character of the poster. The mean posters won’t get to get thier “high” so to speak watching others comment against thier post and 99% of them will move along to another site that will post thier vitriol.

    I remember one time, the owner of a board didn’t take down some bad comments and they got a visit from the secret service because of the nature of the posts. The secret service basically told them what I said above after the person said they didn’t have time to catch it all.

  12. I’m sure babysitting the comments of others can be very trying, but the ultimate control is left up to the moderator. We all have to take responsibility for our comments – and yes – we’re all sitting behind a keyboard.

    You have to nip this in the bud from the get go, and once you let comments get out of control, you’ll have a hard time gaining control.

    Moderating shouldn’t be any different than being a parent, boss, teacher, etc. You have to take control from the very beginning, and be consistent.

    If all you care about is traffic, it’s a lose – lose situation.

    I take internet comments with a grain of salt. The day I let something that somebody said to me on the internet get to me.

    We all need to be nicer at times. I think the main problem is we think before we speak (or we should) but we don’t always think before we type.

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