COLUMN: Cruel online condemnation and conjecture

Columns heralding the new year are usually reflective of the past 12 months, or contain heartfelt, hopeful wishes for the next dozen...

Columns heralding the new year are usually reflective of the past 12 months, or contain heartfelt, hopeful wishes for the next dozen.

Fine. I’ll reflect on the utterly disconcerting comments that so often appear on Facebook in the wake of a violent death, and heartily hope that such inane blabber disappears in the near future.

Wishful thinking, indeed.

The FB dialogue that took place in the aftermath of the death of Marcus Larabie last Friday night at Bourquin Crescent and Mill Lake Road was a disturbing example.

The online story we filed was barely hours old before it started – the idle speculation, the finger-pointing, the self-righteous sermonizing, the condemnation of the driver, who happened to be an off-duty cop, and verdicts issued upon the victim, who happened to be a 14-year-old boy who tragically lost his life.

Cruel, useless chatter.

In several cases, the posts were highly offensive, and brutally hurtful to the victim’s loved ones, the driver, and his family.

Let’s jump to conclusions and lay blame! Was the youth in the crosswalk? Wearing dark clothing? On a skateboard? Was the driver texting? Drinking? Who was it? Why name him? Why not?

So many premature questions – including some with obvious answers if one actually took the time to read the initial story; and others that require expert, painstaking investigation of the circumstances.

That’s what police and accident analysts do, and that work often results in something called facts.

Those require corroboration. They need careful analysis. And even then, facts can be elusive. Witnesses make mistakes. Their observations conflict.

Fact is, many people can’t wait before they post their thoughts on Facebook. Some don’t even seem to think.

Multiple cases of mental incontinence.

It used to be called gossip. Now the new buzzword is crowd-sourcing. The reliability is about the same – next to zero.

Real witnesses give their statements to investigators, who don’t post every facet of their analysis and evaluation on Facebook, or for that matter, tell the media until they’re good and ready.

Everyone else just passes on unsubstantiated rumours and hearsay.

But that’s exactly what much social media communication is about.

Yes, it does have merits. It is a way to connect over distances, to bring people together. And it should be acknowledged that many folks offered online condolences to the Larabie family.

Yet social media is also rife with vapid observations on all and sundry. No qualifications of any kind required. Legions of armchair experts issuing forth on every subject – frequently unfiltered in terms of human respect and feelings.

Perhaps some people are responding to comment strings from friends, and don’t realize they are posting for the whole world to see. Maybe they do, and just don’t care.

Whatever the reason, there’s so much digital chafe out there I have to wonder if the next generation will even recognize or remember what wheat looked like in order to separate the two. Some won’t know what that last reference means, and many won’t be bothered to find out.

In the case of Marcus Larabie, we know some things for certain.

He was 14. He was killed on a road by a car, the day after Christmas, in the dark. He had family members, who now grieve.

For the sake of that family, until more facts become established, let’s leave it at that.