How did our provincial government turn into an Internet troll?

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      Last night, I engaged in a debate over Twitter with the Vancouver Sun's Chad Skelton over, of all things, government communications.

      The B.C. Liberal regime in Victoria often emails statements to the media rather than having spokespeople or cabinet ministers answer questions on the record.

      Skelton believes that reporters have a duty not to withhold information in these statements.

      He questioned the ethics of refusing to publish anything in these emails of interest to readers—and then using that as leverage to get an interview.

      I argued that we're under no obligation to publish information in these government messages if there's no opportunity to ask questions and ascertain the truth of what's being said.

      The debate ended amicably. (You can read it in its entirety here.)

      But the more I think about this situation, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that we're really being governed by a bunch of Internet trolls.

      I'm not using the English version of Internet trolling, which refers to people who disrupt chats or comment threads by changing the topic or turning nasty.

      Rather, I'm relying on the Chinese version of trolling, known as bái mù ("eyes without pupils"), which is explained in this Wikipedia entry:

      "...trolling involves blindly talking nonsense over the internet, having total disregard to sensitivities or being oblivious to the situation at hand, akin to having eyes without pupils."

      This is exactly what the B.C. government is doing with many of its emailed statements to the media.

      It's sometimes blindly talking nonsense, having total disregard to the sensitivities of journalists who might want questions answered for their readers. And the government's declarations are often oblivious to the issues that prompted the media inquiry in the first place.

      When reporters publish many of these nonsensical statements without demanding to have questions answered, they are giving a voice to these Internet trolls.

      When trolls invade our comment streams, they're often chastised by other readers.

      Perhaps it's time that readers reacted in a similar manner when the Internet trolls who govern us decide to invade news stories.

      Reporters should be reminded that it's not wise to feed the trolls. That's because this only encourages them.

      Comments

      7 Comments

      Joseph Planta

      Sep 5, 2013 at 8:14pm

      I followed this last night, and thought you all made good points. Media consumers like myself find these discussion necessary because we'd like to know what it is we're consuming.

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      Nelson Bennett

      Sep 5, 2013 at 9:41pm

      Have to agree with Charlie on this one. If government officials can't be bothered to talk to a reporter or answer questions, I see no obligation to report their emailed statements.

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      JMW

      Sep 6, 2013 at 6:05am

      @Nelson...I can understand the impulse, but then we lose ALL transparency. The government could issue an email saying, "We just approved a garbage dump in downtown Vancouver." And because it comes out in an email, no one should report on it?

      I realize that's a "slippery slope" argument.

      Without reading the Twitter discussion, I don't know if I'm echoing any of the points anyone made (and unfortunately I don't have time right now to do so). But governments today go to enormous lengths to hide things from their constituents, and I don't think anyone should be doing anything to actually assist them with that. Report on it, and then follow up with interviews, questions, etc., and report on THAT.

      That's my opinion, anyway.

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      Evil Eye

      Sep 6, 2013 at 7:33am

      Government by trolling is a government of trolls.

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      Arm Chair

      Sep 6, 2013 at 6:57pm

      Now that the election is done and they've won a majority....to hell with the people, is what the Liberals are saying. Not surprising, as BC Liberals MO runs parallel to Harper's Conservatives.

      Guess we'll have to wait a few years before they begin to play nice again.

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      Alan Layton

      Sep 6, 2013 at 8:30pm

      Charlie has a good point and if someone just publishes everything then they are just a billboard for government spin. I have to admit that politicians, and their employees, are generally very good at evading reporters questions and traps, but every once in awhile they catch someone dozing (eg Kerry Jang) and something of substance comes out of the interview. So interviewing and questioning politicians by reporters is essential in getting us closer to the truth.

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      Stan Mortensen

      Sep 7, 2013 at 10:36am

      Welcome to the internet age. Government and Corporate bureaucracies have put up a wall for one-way communication only a long time ago under the guise of efficiency and security, when in fact it is really only about controlling the message and who delivers the message. So who's at fault, pretty much we are for allowing them to isolate themselves and not demanding that they respond in a meaningful way.