Spoiler alert: People can be cruel.
While certainly not to justify the malice of others, it goes without saying that the majority of people on earth are well aware of the human capacity for cruelty. If you didn’t learn about it on the school playground, it can easily be experienced within five minutes of traveling on public transit. If you lack patience, thirty seconds of a television news broadcast should suffice.
Nonetheless, there are those in the employ of media outlets who believe that written barbarity communicated through social media is evidence of a special breed of human meanness deserving of mention and reporting. These stories are typically associated with references to the world going to hell in a hand basket or society losing its way.
If only these writers and editors were granted access to a collection of all the mean things written on post-it notes, papyrus and stone, they might come to the conclusion that people have been jerks for quite some time without the benefit of Twitter and Facebook.
Until then, we’re to make due with days like today when three Canadian news organizations – the National Post, Globe and Mailand Toronto Star - all reported on the wife of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer undergoing a disgusting bit of persecution on Twitter, presumably because she dared to marry someone who was unable to stop pucks to the satisfaction of miscreants with a primitive understanding of the written word.
Perhaps they imagine April Reimer should’ve been more discerning with whom she fell in love. I don’t know. Reading the beginning of the first in a collection of offending tweets is enough to understand further examination to be unnecessary.
Despite essentially all writing the same story, the three outlets chose different examples of the nonsense to exhibit, with only the National Post exerting the better judgment to cite a separate website instead of publishing the nauseating tweets directly in their story.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Star made the interesting decision to also include messages of encouragement for Mr. and Mrs. Reimer shared on Twitter, but lest the story get away from the doom and gloom of social media, writer Curtis Rush countered the positive with this line:
One person on Twitter suggested the attacks on James Reimer are justified. A person called @Hope_Smoke tweeted: “The criticism of Reimer isn’t unfair. He’s paid to stop the puck.”
The only problem with Rush’s quotation of @Hope_Smoke is that it came from this tweet:
Dreger “the criticism of Reimer isn’t unfair. He’s paid to stop the puck.”
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) March 24, 2014
If the tweet itself doesn’t make it clear, the twitter user’s timeline makes it incredibly evident that this, itself, was a quotation from hockey analyst Darren Dreger participating in a sports radio conversation.
After @Hope_Smoke contacted the Toronto Star to clear this matter up, Rush included a partial retraction that included more condescension than apology or clarification.
Upon seeing this story, @Hope_Smoke contacted the Star to say the tweet was meant as a criticism of Reimer and was not an attack on his wife. He or she would not give their real name.
Unfortunately, Rush conveniently left out the part about his misattributing the quote, just as he previously left out the attribution.
It doesn’t take much more than a passing interest to be considered a sports fan. There are next to no restrictions. As such, a lot of good, bad and ugly are welcomed into an incredibly vicarious experience that tends to elicit passion from those taking part.
That this fervor would drive some toward behaving badly is hardly surprising. Neither is it shocking that these delinquents would use a readily accessibly medium to express themselves.
Yet, the Toronto Star’s handling of the story reveals a perverse curiosity with Twitter, in which they recognize it as a phenomenon, but remain more interested in assigning negative connotations to it rather than risk anything approaching an understanding of its function.
We see this not only in the way the media outlet treats nitwits tweeting as a news story worthy of reader attention, but also in its complete ignorance —willful or not — of quoting and/or attribution. The writer in this case either didn’t understand that the tweet was a quote not referring to the subject of his story, or didn’t understand that he’d be easily caught attempting to shape it into what he wanted it to be.
Neither option puts the writer or the Toronto Star in a very good light.