You can no longer utter death threats to journalists on Facebook

Facebook has now increased protection for journalists against harassment, bullying, and death threats according to its global safety chief (Oct. 14, 2021, Globe and Mail).

Image Credit: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

However, too bad if you’re a public figure. Facebook differentiates between public figures and private individuals in the protection it affords. For instance, users are generally allowed to call for the death of a celebrity in discussions on the platform, as long as they do not tag or directly mention the celebrity.

Under existing Facebook’s policies, you haven’t been able to call for the death of a private individual for some time. Earlier this year, Facebook said it would remove content celebrating, praising or mocking George Floyd’s death, because he was deemed an involuntary public figure. Those who are involuntary public figures are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Now journalists are afforded the same protection as involuntary public figures.

Why has it taken Facebook so long?

Accurate reporting is fundamental to democracy. Journalists must be protected in order to inform citizens.

Media trolls claim that they are protected by freedom of speech, and for too long social media have given them a platform to spew their hate.

However, freedom of speech ends when lives are threatened. When journalists are threatened, it provides a license to kill. Others who see those threats take action even when the trolls don’t. Sixteen journalists have been murdered globally this year, so far, 1418 have been killed since 1992 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It doesn’t take death threats to place a chill on the flow accurate news. One Kamloops Facebook user doesn’t hide his disdain for of reporting about the pandemic on local media. He is especially contemptuous of Kamloops CBC:

“The hysteria being promoted in the media especially the CBC is just that -hysteria !”

He has repeated these criticisms to me and to other local media outlets.

From the comments, some of his Facebook followers agree with his assessment. Either they, or someone sympathetic to his criticisms of CBC, vandalized a Kamloops CBC van by dumping paint over it and spraying “fake news” on the side on April 4, 2021.

The President of CBC/Radio-Canada, Catherine Tait, is worried about the chill on reporting that such attacks have. She told Kamloops This Week:

“We are looking at what security we need to provide so that people feel safe in their jobs. We cannot have people feeling anxious and nervous.”

The pandemic has raised levels of fear and mistrust of news sources in all sectors to dangerous levels. The contagion of COVID has corrupted trust in traditional sources. It’s almost as if the coronavirus has affected people’s ability to think clearly.

A recent survey found that trust declined in all institutions, from business to religion to academia. Forty-nine per cent of Canadians surveyed agree that journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or by gross exaggerations.

Canada faces a crisis in leadership and expert credibility. More and more, citizens are turning to the echo chambers of social media for news.

I find this astonishing. Why would anyone trust someone sitting at their computers spewing hate and misinformation over those whose job it is to go out and dig up what’s really happening?

Why do I feel apprehensive as the pandemic lockdown lifts?

I should be thrilled at the lifting of the pandemic. Instead, I feel a little uneasy.

image: InfoWorld

I’m not the only one. In a recent survey of Canadians by the polling firm Leger, 52 per cent said they fell somewhat anxious about returning to what life was like before the novel coronavirus.

Young people felt even more apprehensive. Those aged 18 to 24 showed the highest levels of unease at 68 per cent.

We’ve lived with it so long with it that this way of life now feels familiar.

It took a little getting used to but I’m comfortable wearing a mask. In the cold weather of winter, it actually provided some warmth.

At the grocery store, the shopping carts have all been sanitized. Added staff have been hired to wipe down freezer handles and any other surfaces that people touch. Security staff ensure that everyone is wearing a mask. “Have a nice day,” they cheerfully tell me as I exit.

We now know that all that wiping down isn’t necessary given that the virus is spread by expelled droplets and aerosols and not contact. Still, it’s reassuring and helps make us feel safe.

But it’s probably just theatre.

Every Loblaw store, including the ones in Kamloops that go by a different names, are doing increased sanitization including frequent deep cleaning of all areas of the store.

“In fact, we go above and beyond what was required,” said Loblaw director of corporate affairs, Mark Boudreau, adding that some of the grocery chain’s COVID-19 cleaning protocols might become permanent.

But experts say that it’s time to move past “hygiene theatre” that give people a sense of security and protection but are actually unlikely to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission.

Then there is the environmental impact of all those disposable wipes, the cost of disinfecting supplies, and the burden on restaurant and retail employees to maintain strict COVID-19 cleaning measures, are further reasons to start being pragmatic – and stop wiping down groceries and mail.

Sure, it may be “hygiene theatre” but I worry that the lack of concern for hygiene after the pandemic could lead to more transmission of viruses. After all, this year’s flu season practically disappeared.

And what will talk around the dinner table be like in our post-pandemic future?

Leger polled Canadians and asked what they discuss at the dinner table. One out of five talked about COVID-19; five times as much as they talked about Canada’s perennial topic –the weather.

For those over the age of 65, one out of three talked about COVID-19 at the dinner table. Understandable, when you consider the higher risk for older Canadians.

What will we talk about around the dinner table once the pandemic is over? Maybe we’ll be at a loss for words.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” said LP Hartley in his novel.

The future is a foreign country. It will unlike any future since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. We will do things differently there, but in what way?

Unlike the past, the future is yet to be inhabited. When the post-pandemic order arrives, we will stumble into it, blinking in the brightness of a new world.