People need to quit trying to tell others how to use social media.

Every year, World Media Freedom day rolls around and inevitably, someone starts railing about the need for respect. What they mean, of course, is ‘stop saying bad things about me’.

Some of the people who protest the loudest are the most deserving of the treatment they get.

In fairness, a great many people who get castigated, shamed or even abused in the public space don’t deserve it. Yasmine Bjornum, in the inaugural issue of Sista, her brand-new online magazine, decries the all-too-prevalent pattern of victim blaming that happens here in Vanuatu.

She writes: “Why is that the warnings about sexual harassment always seem to be directed at the victims of crime? Why aren’t we targeting the perpetrators instead?”

Good question.

But, as a friend once said, there’s no such thing as Felony Stupid. You can’t legislate away humanity’s penchant for idiocy.

That’s a Good Thing too, because if you could, I’d be writing this—and you’d be reading it—behind bars.

It never ceases to surprise me just how nasty human beings can be to one another. And it never ceases to amaze me how astonishingly good people can be too, especially in times of need.

So whenever I see yet another episode of petty jealousy, snark or divisiveness, I tell myself that this is a sign that times are good. If we were facing any real crises, we’d be rallying to each other’s side.

Call it the Pothole Rule: Whenever we get back to complaining about the abysmal state of our roads, it means that any crises of truly national proportions have faded into the background.

It’s human nature to revel in the misfortunes of others. It’s a sad reality that public figures feel the weight of public opprobrium more heavily.

On second thought, no it’s not.

Almost without exception, public figures didn’t just accept the role they occupy, they strove and struggled for years to get there. A few have connived, back-stabbed and crawled over others to grab the brass ring. If they get held to a higher standard, so be it.

Instead of complaining that there should be a law against petty sniping, how about we amend the Leadership Code to include a clause saying that once you’ve scratched and clawed your way into the public eye, you don’t get to gripe if people don’t like what they see.

People are fickle, they’re nasty, they’re way too obsessed by sex, they revel in the misfortune of others, they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive.

They are also selfless, sacrificing, thoughtful, caring, quick to console and slow to truly anger.

We all try to control our inner demons, but never as successfully as we should.

Someone once said the jury was still out on whether Facebook and social media in general are Good or Evil.

The answer is that it’s worse than that: Facebook is Us.

Facebook is an indelible—albeit absent-minded—record of the very best and worst of human behaviour. Once upon a time, we shared our most narrow-minded views with a few choice friends in the darkness of the nakamal or the kitchen. Now, thanks to the wonder of technology, the entire world gets to witness our depravity.

But silliness is not against the law. It should never be against the law.

It should definitely give us cause for introspection and, ideally, lead us toward a little more restraint. Libel was illegal before, and it’s still illegal today. If you maliciously tell lies about someone, you could pay dearly.

But truth be told, it’s often better to remember not to feed to trolls. As the world-renowned statesman George Carlin said, ‘Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.’

I say this advisedly, having been the target of ad hominem attacks from people in the highest office and the lowest station. I’ve also been guilty of intemperate outbursts and pronouncements emitted before sober second thought finally set it.

No one should ever be exempt from criticism. No one. If it means that a hundred others suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous behaviour, so be it. It’s a sad reality, perhaps, but a reality nonetheless.

Facebook isn’t Good or Bad. Facebook is Us. God help us all.

Dan McGarry

Media Director

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