Wednesday, 30 September 2015

tyrants in the information age

I was recently added to a Facebook group called “Heavenly Creatures……Keeping Them Accountable.” (HCKTA)  

The group was started a year ago after a handful of people accused Heavenly Creatures of questionable conduct.

Here are some excerpts from the group’s mandate:

“ the people who give their hard earned the many, many pets they help, and most of all the animals, as it them we are all here to help and protect.

"We, as a group are looking to have the organization of Heavenly Creatures be accountable for all their donations to be properly receipted to the donors(as required by law). We are also looking for accountability and transparency of the spending of those donations through a regulated board and accountant to ensure the disbursement of those donations are best spent for the welfare of the animals they are entrusted to care for.

"However it has been found that anytime anybody dares to question any of the actions whether they are a supporter , a volunteer or just a concerned citizen, the organization goes out of its way to remove, block, or try to discredit these people. This is not the way for this group to have it's image improve in the eyes of the public, so that being said, we are striving for what is sooo desperately needed – ACCOUNTABILITY [sic].”

After perusing the posts in the group, it became evident that the active members of the group visit the page to take part in the defamation of Heavenly Creatures, referring to it as “kinda cult like”, accusing the volunteers of being brainwashed, and insinuating that the organization is filtering funds through another charity.

When these members convene over a post on the group page, they seem to feed off each other’s denigrations, whether toward Heavenly Creatures or another member of the group.
While it seems unusual to hear of adults willingly partaking in online wars, a 2014 survey by Pew Research Center revealed that nearly 75% of American adults have been a part of online harassment. 

So, what is it about being part of a Facebook group that makes people want to jump on a comment like a herd of animals? 

Social media has long been a gateway to enhanced methods of communication, but the comfort of a screen certainly seems to allow for much more animosity towards one another than face-to-face communication.

Most Internet tyrants claim freedom of speech when finding themselves in an online struggle, in an attempt to justify their harsh words and belligerent behaviour.

I don’t pretend to know much about the psychology of the online harasser, I can only speculate as to what would possess another adult to attack another individual - a stranger - from behind a computer screen.

Groups like “Heavenly Creatures…Keeping Them Accountable” are often created with the intention of helping and/or serving a community, but instead of offering education or constructive criticism, the members get together in an online forum to insult, harass, and point fingers.

Many of the active members of the group have been banned from other organizations’ Facebook pages for confrontational behaviour, sometimes extending beyond Facebook.

Clearly unimpressed with my comments in support of Heavenly Creatures, one of the active HCKTA Facebook group members sent an e-mail to the founder of a local publication for which I write, accusing me of destroying its reputation.

 If it weren't for organizations like Heavenly Creatures, many animals wouldn't have a fighting chance.  The unsubstantiated allegations made by the HCKTA group have taken a considerable toll on the organization and its founder.

“They say they want transparency and accountability, but we don't know what they mean; Heavenly Creatures is already a registered charity that issues tax receipts.  Our financial information, like every other charity's, is available on the CRA website,” says Jessica Rendell, President and founder of Heavenly Creatures. “We have nothing to hide.  None of the Facebook group members  – almost all of whom are strangers to us – have ever seen our books nor have they made an attempt to call or e-mail us for information.”

Heavenly Creatures’ financial reports are available to the public, and have been for quite some time, at this link

As far as I can tell, the group has no evidence to support their allegations.  Jessica graciously offered to let me look through the organization’s financial records that have yet to be posted online.   Predictably, I found nothing to indicate neither embezzling nor fraudulent activity. 
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary also went through their financial records last fall at the recommendation of several HCKTA group members and also came away empty handed.

Still, the group members continue their tirade against Heavenly Creatures.

But, hey - they can say what they want.  That’s the beauty of freedom of speech, right?

Well, freedom of speech doesn’t grant you immunity from libel charges.

After discussing the situation with a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, he had this to say:

“We do not have legislation in this province, so if we were to investigate complaints [of libel], they would be done under the criminal code.  The criminal code has been recently amended to adapt to changing technologies.  The “Protecting Canadians from online crime” act under Bill C-13 gives police the tools to facilitate the investigation of crime that involves electronic evidence.

“There are also other criminal code offences that would capture certain bullying and cyberbullying activities such as criminal harassment, threats, false messages, harassing calls, etc.”

My question is:  When it comes to the Internet, where do we draw the line?

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