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President's column: When the trolls come out to play

This issue of Police News highlights two very different methods of communication — on one side, allowing those we disagree with to also have a forum for expression; on the other, feeling free to lash out at anyone who dares to disagree with your stance.

This issue of Police News highlights two very different methods of communication — on one side, allowing those we disagree with to also have a forum for expression; on the other, feeling free to lash out at anyone who dares to disagree with your stance.

Last month’s PCT story generated an almost unprecedented response from members. So much so that all the Letters to the Editor in this edition are from members who were prompted to tell of their own experiences of coping, or not, with the demands of passing their PCT.

Our members read the initial story, formed their own opinions and, as you will see, those opinions vary greatly, and all are valid. There have been a few barbs traded on our Facebook page, but the interaction falls pretty much within what can be tolerated in the modern-day version of the town square.

This month’s cover leaves no illusions about the other side of the social etiquette of communication. Trolling, as our account on p6 reveals, provides a public stage for angry emojis, ugly smears, foul language and, very often, extremely poor grammar.

Social media was designed to offer a space for social interaction and shared information. As with many great inventions, there are always those who will use it for negative purposes, usually personal attacks, rather than coherent, well-argued points.

As our trolling story shows, the platform can very quickly resemble a school playground where participants come out from under their bridges to hurl what they believe to be the best insults. For their efforts, they expect praise from their
click-bait cohorts and submission from their targets.

Success is measured in a post going viral. If it does, it reaches another dangerous platform – the oxymoronic “fake news” – where unsubstantiated claims become accepted as truth. Urban myths are quickly inflated by cyber steroids, no one accepts responsibility and, unfortunately, it seems to be here for the foreseeable future.

A recent example of fake news designed to denigrate New Zealand’s firearms law reforms was highlighed by Newsroom last month. In its story, the news media arm of a gun lobby group claimed that New Zealand’s gun buy-back was a complete failure. Conveniently, the lobby group omitted the fact that the buy-back had not even started when it claimed it was a failure.

The July onslaught on our Facebook page from domestic and United States gun lobby groups was no surprise to me, given the personal attacks directed at me and those I have witnessed towards others who have called for significant changes to New Zealand’s lax gun laws.

I assume many of these trolls own firearms and, as MP Judith Collins did during the April select committee hearing on gun reform, I would question the suitability of a number of them to hold a firearms licence.

Some of us have thick skins and can bat away the insults, but that is not a solution to the problem, because it does nothing to foster informed debate. We need to get the “social” back into social media.

The widening gap between social media/fake news and actual news highlights the value of high-calibre journalism and the need for news outlets where multiple opinions can be aired in robust and respectful forums.

I place Police News firmly in the category of quality journalism. As association members, we can be proud of the role our magazine plays in our lives.

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