Media outlets should step up to curb insults, attacks posted on its sites

It has been a decade of realization for Canadians.

Idle No More, poverty on reserves, residential schools and treaty rights have been reported in detail and have been abundant in the public interest. An increase in the knowledge of Canada’s First Nations issues has led to coverage in every major Canadian media outlet.

But rather bringing the tolerance and understanding that generally increase with news coverage, it has brought on a new form of ignorance towards First Nations people.

Evidence of this is the increase of abusive written attacks towards First Nations in Canada posted on news outlets’ online comment sections. These racist comments have proven that many are closed to the real issues Aboriginal people face.

As a proud Blackfoot of Southern Alberta, I am not surprised by these outlandish judgments I read on my social sites. Rather, I am disappointed that nothing is being done to protect our dignity by the media outlets.

It is time to put an end to these trolls.

In Internet slang, a “troll” is a person who starts arguments and upsets people by posting extraneous or off-topic messages with the intent to provoke an emotional response or disrupt an otherwise on-topic, civil discussion.

Trolls are persuasive and vicious on social media. Take for instance, the comment section.

A January 2014 CBC story was posted about people living on a First Nation reserve in Canada being 10 times more likely to die in a house fire. This followed the death of two young boys from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

Although the tension, tone and facts of the story are quite alarming, the outpouring of compassionate comments were seemingly overshadowed by the ignorance of many public comments.

“Natives don’t own their own houses so they don’t care about the shape they are in,” wrote one troll.
“It’s shameful the way our First Nations people who live on reserves live,” wrote another. “And the chiefs on the reserves line their own pockets instead of helping their people. Double shame!”

“Where are our tax dollars going? They’re using the money to drink instead of fix their houses!” wrote a troll.

So whose responsibility it is to clean up this Internet bullying? Where are the Internet police?

The Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics committee recently produced a report on comment moderation. Ellen van Wageningen, the report’s lead author, said the paper outlines the need for some type of control.

“If online commenting is to be a robust part of the public discussion that journalists and the media outlets we work for strive to encourage, we need to set ground rules and remain involved in the conversation,” said van Wageningen in an interview.

But she admits that this is easier said than done, due to the limited amount of staff in newsrooms to monitor comments on their web and social media sites.

“Some have given up and stopped allowing comments all together,” said van Wageningen.

Unlike newspaper letters to the editor, which generally required full names and a return address, online comments began as anonymous posts, giving the commenter a safety net to express opinions without feeling victimized. Now not only are social media monikers provided, profile photos may also be visible letting readers know exactly who they are.

But the harmful comments haven’t subsided, in fact they seem to have grown more requent.

As kids, most of us were taught, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.”
But trolls appear to have never learned this lesson, and when called out by others on sites, many cite freedom of speech as justification for their online bullying.

Since when did freedom of expression overpower the idea of common respect?

It would be easy to say that First Nations readers shouldn’t be so sensitive; however, the rancorous attacks would be deemed inexcusable if they were against any other minority in Canada.

Lynn Calf Robe, editor of Iksokapi Magazine, an online publication pertaining to First Nations women across Canada said that it’s up to what publications want to achieve.

Calf Robe does not publish comments due to the risk of trolls spreading their negative opinions on her website.

She said that would be contrary to Iksokapi Magazine’s aim to be a positive media outlet that strives to “empower educate, and entertain.”

Trolling is a form of cyber bullying; considering the steps that Canada has taken to vocalize a stand against Internet harassment, it’s appalling that news stories regarding First Nation issues are victim to racial slurs.

However, banning comments outright on First Nations stories isn’t the answer either.

Online conversation is important to increasing Canadians’ understanding of First Nations issues and without the conversation there is no understanding.

Media outlets just need to do a better job of ensuring that the voices heard are culturally sensitive

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