Off the cuff: Be responsible when posting material online

Ms. Sandra Ward,

As a resident of Bellefontaine, I would not presume to dispense an opinion on Quincy’s levy and council issues mentioned in your forum letter published in the Nov. 19 edition of the Examiner. However, there is an area of your letter which impacts our entire community and is a cause for real concern.

It appears your motivation to write to the forum was influenced in part by comments posted on the Web site If that is the case, I hope the writing of your letter has allowed you to move forward without losing another moment’s peace.

Even if every comment posted on Topix and other social media sites like it represented 100 percent complete and verifiable facts — which many certainly do not — the sites themselves have a dangerous flaw by design; they allow users to withhold their identities by hiding behind fake screen names.

This, unfortunately, makes it very easy for anyone with a particular ax to grind to quickly spread rumors, gossip and horribly vitriolic personal attacks into the vastness of cyberspace with impunity.

These ugly online comments and abuses can be removed, but often not before serious damage is done. Stories about teens committing suicide because of “cyber bullying,” Facebook posts that induce a public panic and result in loss of life, and the recent murderous robbery scheme started on Craigslist which is now unfolding in southern Ohio, illustrate this point.

It isn’t unfathomable to think that a “bright” politician will some day be able to pass legislation under the guise of saving us from online abuse to further abridge our First Amendment rights.

An excerpt from a speech by famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1958 about the perils of abusing the medium of TV, holds true for the newer technologies of the Digital Age:

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.”

I fear the battle the late Mr. Murrow referred to has long since been lost. And if there is any hope of lifting ourselves out of the deep “cyber cesspool,” it has to begin with making all those who choose to engage in the digital conversation accountable.

In this era of Twitter, Facebook and the like everyone is a would-be publisher. Please use that power responsibly and think before you post.

T.J. Hubbard

Examiner Asst. GM

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