Online trolls spread misinformation, yet mainstream media is the bad guy

UPDATED: March 9, 2022, City of Ottawa media relations statement

The mainstream media has been challenged, questioned and, to be honest, completely written off by consumers of news. When once people used newspapers and TV newscasts as trusted sources of information, now the go-to platform is social media. And, oh boy, are we in trouble – all of us.

I don’t spend much time scrolling Facebook or Twitter because, truthfully, I have better things to do with my time. So, why am I on social media? Unfortunately, it’s practically a requirement when you’re a radio host and newspaper reporter and columnist.

It’s maddening for those of us in the media to hear people thrashing the professionally trained journalists – our peers – reporting on stories that might not fit certain people’s narratives. The common reaction: Spin, spin, spin. While that used to be an art form for politicians and their PR people, it’s carried over to the general public. And if it continues, oh hell, we’re screwed.

None of my evenings are spent on social media unless it’s required for work. I had just finished live-tweeting a TV show that I’m contractually obligated to mock when I monitored my feed to continue interacting with audiences. I didn’t expect to get caught up in calling out people for being, if I can be blunt, shit disturbers.

Piers Morgan, the tell-it-like-it-is commentator (who’s been on the radio with me several times), questioned why Justin Trudeau wasn’t wearing a face mask when meeting with the Queen. She famously tested positive for COVID-19 so it raised eyebrows that the Canadian prime minister didn’t take more safety precautions when they met in the U.K.

Tweeted Morgan, “Why on earth would @JustinTrudeau wear a mask to meet @Keir_Starmer but not the Queen? Preposterous.”

I replied, sarcastically, “Canadians have been asking why he’s not wearing handcuffs lately, Piers!”

And with that, the floodgates opened.

Every 30 seconds my phone was dinging with notifications. Mostly it was people “liking” the tweet while others chimed in with comments.

One user, @travelling_Brit, quickly replied, “I live in Canada and most in Canada haven’t been asking that.” That led to a pile-on of the person whose profile name said Luap. Most people, largely familiar with Canadian politics, disagreed and questioned such a statement.

Challenging my comment, Luap continued, “…you should broaden your horizons and talk to people outside of deranged Facebook groups.” Again, a random and baseless claim. When I informed this person I’m very well tuned into people through the newspaper and radio, the reply was then, “It’s so arrogant to believe you represent the beliefs of most Canadians. You don’t.”

Trouble is, I hadn’t expressed any beliefs. I didn’t say Trudeau should be locked up, nor did I give any opinion on how he is as a prime minister. I simply made an observation about the current political climate in Canada. Somehow, as wrong as the social media mob is for doing this, they pounce on you because your statement disagrees with what they believe to be true. It doesn’t matter if they take your words out of context or misunderstand your message altogether, they will fire back with insults and slams just to “win” the non-existent fight.

For me, I have no interest in engaging with that. I was keen to see how Luap’s comments would play out with the rest of the users chiming in on the thread. Needless to say, Luap was outnumbered and his or her account quickly went private for a brief time and when public again all tweets from the exchange were deleted.

So, this was a person who had no issue challenging someone’s comments but when the mob didn’t back them up – and began contradicting the statements – they quickly removed all evidence as if they didn’t pour gas on a flame. Had the masses sided with them, I’m sure the troll-ish comments would still be online.

After that person backed down (and later blocked me), another chimed in on the discussion, this time claiming that local Canadian governments were taking people’s dogs and killing them if the owners participated in the so-called Freedom Convoy in Ottawa.

The user, @cherylsaitp, claimed protesters would have “their dogs put down because they are are (sic) disputing their governments (sic) mandates and narrative.”

When challenged by another user to clarify the claim, @cherylsaitp replied with a link to Express, a U.K. tabloid, titled “’Disgusting!’ Trudeau slammed as Canadian police threaten to seize and kill truckers’ pets” and sourced a Fox News commentary.

According to Express’s reporting, “Canada has been accused of “government-sanctioned euthanasia” of pets after the capital city Ottawa threatened to seize and potentially euthanise animals kept by protesting truckers. The “disgusting and callous” threat comes amid the blockade of trucks and demonstrators that have occupied Ottawa for more than three weeks. Fox News hosts reacted to the shameful claims of going after animals.” (Note the words “accused of” – meaning it’s some commentator, someone of no authority, making the claim.)

The Feb. 21, 2022, “news” article continued, “Ottawa by-law tweeted: “Attention animal owners at demonstration. If you are unable to care for your animal as a result of enforcement actions, your animal will placed into protective care for 8 days, at your cost. After 8 days, if arrangements are not made, your animal will be considered relinquished.”

The Fox News talking heads relayed that story as animals needlessly being killed to punish the protesters. Fact check: Relinquished doesn’t mean euthanized, it means the owner would no longer be the legal owner of the animal.

To that, @cherylsaitp replied, “Any dog held for 7 days was put down . If you were detained for 8 days your dog was destroyed. This was first article I grabbed…. Do your homework. If they can do this for disagreeing with them – I’m smelling a fascist and communism in the air!”

I insisted this reckless Twitter user accurately source and attribute the wording “put down” and “destroyed” to the local authority threatening to kill pets. Alas, I was given the runaround and the cop out, “I’m in the Uk and only listen to drivel spouted in third hand I will do some transatlantic homework with your trustworthy authorities to try to get the info for you. I’m no journalist so I expect with your interest you’d be proving me wrong with your skills.”

Not expecting any reputable sourcing, I insisted @cherylsaitp “research and report back. At the very least, think before you spread unsubstantiated claims online.”

Later, another Twitter user jumped to conclusions and insisted that, yes, Ottawa police threatened to kill the pets of protesters after a set period of time.

The claim from @LynnD43996798 stated, “It was actually said in an Ottawa police tweet that if truck drivers have their pets and are arrested, if the dogs aren’t picked up within 8 days (maybe 7 can’t remember) they will be terminated. I just can’t find the tweet. But it was said.”

Asked for proof and questioned how such a drastic statement could vanish from the internet without any evidence the policy ever existed, @LynnD43996798, whose profile pic at the time of this post was an upside down Canadian flag, tweeted a screenshot suggesting “an animal will be considered relinquished” during the Ottawa protest.

Still, challenged to provide evidence that Ottawa police threatened to kill — or “terminate” — animals amid the city’s dramatic standoff, @LynnD43996798, could not, instead telling me to “think about it” and infer that’s what they meant when using the term “relinquished.”

You know, just read between the lines and draw your own conclusions. What could possibly go wrong there? Thus, how conspiracy theories and “fake news” are born — all the while being attributed to the mainstream media.

@LynnD43996798, whose profile at the time of this post stated “proud member of the fringe minority” and boasted a whopping 18 followers, added, “It doesn’t exactly say KILL but what do you think they would’ve done if they took possession of them and no one came for them after the 8 days? What do humane societies do when they can’t find people to adopt the animals they have? Think about it! They would’ve been “killed.”” Fact check: Humane societies in Canada do not give animals a shelf life, though very few private shelters do. This is an outdated practice very rare to happen in Canada.

This is when trolls traditionally wave their hands and make you look over there, then over there, and cue the smoke cloud so they can distract you even more.

Indeed, @cherylsaitp questioned my knowledge of the situation, saying, “Also a little concerning that you haven’t heard this at all in your field?? Interesting.” Of course I hadn’t because it’s not true. It’s unreasonable to expect a professional journalist to keep up to date on all the phony conspiracies online because we’re busy covering, you know, real news.

Unable to back up the claims in the tabloid story that @cherylsaitp cited, the replies continued to challenge me to prove that the story wasn’t true. See how it works? They can’t provide specific information from a local authority to prove the sensational story so it’s up to me to prove the story isn’t true. Distraction, distraction, distraction.

So, to disprove the story (just for shits and giggles), I went straight to the source: City of Ottawa. Realizing the Ottawa Police Service isn’t in the business of animal management, the city’s media relations team was forwarded this full commentary and asked to clarify and comment its position on this so-called animal murdering spree during the said convoy.

“Within eight days of the animal being placed into protective care, the owner or a person acting on their behalf needs to arrange to have the animal picked up or extend their stay. In the event contact is not made, the animal would be considered surrendered and will be rehomed,” said Roger Chapman, director, by-law and regulatory services. “In association with the demonstration, one dog was placed into protective care because the car it occupied was being towed, and the owner was not present.”

Back to Twitter, @cherylsaitp deflected, “But your (sic) happy to freeze the bank accounts of your own people who disagree with their government???? Eff off!” See, the main argument – dogs being killed – is no longer the focus of this person’s argument and now there’s a secondary topic to shift the focus from him or her being proven wrong on their initial claim.

This is where Twitter users ignite the fight and continue the back and forth. I have no interest in engaging in a pissing match when I know someone is just trying to poke me and stoke the fire. I’m smarter than taking the bait.

Why did I engage in the series of tweets this time? I was hoping to get through to the person that spreading such reckless information doesn’t help anyone. Whether or not they truly believe the “news” they preach as gospel, I don’t know; it’s always a game when people troll social media threads.

Was he or she just trying to be a troublemaker and create some morbid excitement in their day? For the answer, you can fact-check by scrolling their tweet stream to see if there’s a history of rapid-fire replies to certain subjects.

So, while the mainstream media continues to get dragged by more and more of these people who, with great conviction, believe everything they read on the internet, it’s concerning how such communication tools will lead to the destruction of civil dialogue and ultimately cause greater harm and division in the world.

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