Social media attacks on Victoria’s mayor are unwarranted
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has deactivated her Twitter account after two of her tweets ignited a firestorm of animosity and worse. Voters will have a chance to express their views on Helps’ performance as mayor. That’s for voters to decide at the next municipal election.
We are concerned rather with why the firestorm arose, and what it says about reasoned discourse in our community.
On the Friday before she deactivated her account, Helps had tweeted support for the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub, a proposed addition to the city’s marine sector.
The next day she tweeted a photo of the new floating dock installed on the Gorge Waterway by Aryze Development.
As mayor it was her job to welcome these boosts to the local economy, suffering as it is from the COVID epidemic. This should have been an opportunity for optimism in the midst of endless bad news.
But that’s not what happened. Instead Helps was slammed for shifting her gaze, even momentarily, from challenges like homelessness and the other afflictions our community faces.
It’s scarcely a secret that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook provide an opportunity for frustrated contributors to let off steam. Every politician can testify that some of this comes with the job.
But what Helps endured went far beyond. Some of the verbal assaults were crude, misogynistic, and downright ugly.
We understand the passion for social justice. There are very real wrongs that need righting. And sooner than later.
Yet all Helps had done was publicize good news in the mildest of ways. For this she should be attacked? And not just attacked but personally vilified?
This is profoundly unCanadian. It is not who we aspire to be, nor should it.
Freedom of speech is about sharing ideas, not trying to bully into silence those we disagree with. What separates our country from the social maelstrom south of the border is a willingness to hear differing viewpoints.
It is sometimes argued that the more important a social issue, the greater the latitude that should be granted in addressing it. Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency in 1964, voiced that opinion: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Yet moderation is precisely what we need at this moment, when the very foundations of our society are being shaken by a pandemic of unknown limit or duration. The anxieties this has loosed have us all on edge.
Had Helps used her position to undermine efforts at eliminating homelessness, had she betrayed callousness or indifference to such matters, this would have merited criticism. Though not of the kind that descended on her.
But to repeat, all she did was pass on good news. She said nothing that could, in any reasonable world, give offence. Yet violent offence was taken. And it can be a small distance from violent speech to violent acts.
If this is where we’re headed, a crossroads lies not far ahead. For the mayor’s experience is becoming all too common.
Like other newspapers, our mailbox increasingly holds letters to the editor that cannot be printed.
Yes, there have always been a handful that should not see the light of day. We invite correspondence; it is an essential part of any opinion page. Inevitably some letters cross the boundaries of good taste. Yet without question the trend is disquieting. This is not about good taste, or at least, not mainly. It is about one of the more basic requirements of civil society, the need for self-restraint.
We are not urging internet censorship. Social media, on the whole, have been a liberating force. People who previously had no voice, can now be heard.
Nor is the issue which topics may be raised, or who may speak out. The wrongs of society, whether past or present, will only be corrected if attention is drawn to them. The concern is how mutual respect can be preserved in a world beset with its failures. For lacking respect, we become part of the problem.