Vance: Let's figure out how to get along online
A couple weeks ago, in an opinion piece for the Spotlight, I used the phrase made famous by Rodney King — "Can't we all just get along?"
I bring that up today because one of my tasks as editor of the Spotlight is to read all of the comments that come into the newspaper's social media accounts. In doing so, there are days when I think "No. We can't all get along."
Some of that, I know, is based on the way that social media works. It has been shown that part of Twitter's algorithm is designed to produce conflict rather than discourse.
Further, the relatively anonymous nature of social media interactions — even if our real names are displayed, I probably don't know you and you probably don't know me — make it easier to insult a person or deride a person's comment in a way we would likely never do in a face-to-face conversation.
By way of example, without naming names or taking sides, I'll mention the many, many reactions to the Spotlight's stories regarding efforts to change (and efforts to keep) "Indians" as the Scappoose High School mascot.
While this has always been a hot-button issue, the intensity of the rhetoric seems to have been turned up even higher this time. Part of that, I believe, comes in response to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. More of us are out of work these days, more of us have been separated from our support systems and more of us have serious questions about the future that can't be answered right now.
Those stresses mean that when readers address an issue such as the mascot change controversy, they sometimes attack each other viciously. They write things about each other on Facebook that they would likely never say to that person's face.
Here's why I mention it now. In the coronavirus pandemic era, when so many of us are spending so much more time in our homes and away from our churches, friends, offices and normal social groups, many of us are living more of our lives online. In my view — at least for generations such as mine that did not grow up online — that's not a healthy way to live.
If we want our cities — whether it's Scappoose or St. Helens or Columbia City or Rainier or Clatskanie — to move forward and progress and improve and grow, we are going to have to figure out how to live with each other. The same is true for Columbia County as a whole, for Oregon and for our country.
If we see people on the other side an issue — whether it's the Scappoose High mascot, Black Lives Matter, opening our schools or the presidential election — as evil rather than wrong, then our cities, our county, our state and our country will be made worse.
So here's what I'd ask. When you read our stories — and please keep reading — and respond to those stories online, respond to those you disagree with like you know them, like they're one of your neighbors.
Share your opinions, please, and share them strongly, but back up your opinions with facts and tell people where you got your facts. Share your sources so those on the other side of the issue might be educated and might — maybe — move a little closer to your side of the issue.
When someone responds with additional facts or directs you to other sources, check them out and consider them fairly. And most of all, address each other's arguments but don't guess at people's motivations and attack them unless they tell you what their motivations are.
Unless you truly want to tear our country apart and start anew — I know those people are out there, but I believe them to be very few in number — we're going to have to learn to live together.
Remember, that person you're yelling at and degrading in your all-caps tirade might just be your neighbor.
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