In the wake of tragedies, the need to find cause – once danger has passed, of course – is all important.
Wisdom dictates that we need to assess what happened, why it happened and what, if anything, we can do now to avoid it happening again.
But there is a huge difference between fact-finding and reasonable assessment of cause and the emotion-fuelled speculation of keyboard warriors. While this may be all-too-human, we have to do better as a society than let assumptions and bias control and cloud our judgments, whether dealing with a heinous crime or a horrendous accident.
The trouble with keyboard warriors is that they need no qualifications or authority to pronounce judgment – just an online device that publishes their whims to the world.
When a person is accused of leaving a dog in a hot car, or another is charged with a crime, or another accused of hate speech, the keyboard warrior somehow feels confident to be both judge and jury. Unattributed third-party accounts of what happened are quickly accepted and repeated as fact. Assumptions are bolstered with personal spin – and usually an attack on the accused perpetrator, or sometimes the victim.
On occasion, the rush-to-judgment appears vindicated; the third-party accounts were right, the charges stick, the snippet of online video accurately portrays what the speaker said.
Too often, however, the process only serves to reinforce error and perpetuate myth.
In the tragic death of the 15-year-old struck by a passenger train near Crescent Beach last Wednesday, keyboard warriors have behaved typically, accepting third-party accounts and repeating them online as fact.
Assumption is rampant – one person at the scene confirmed that some 50 youths had gathered at the waterfront, and for some this enough. What else could these kids have been doing, they opine, but playing drunken, deadly games with oncoming locomotives?
The fact is that unless you were a firsthand eyewitness, you don’t, as yet, know all the facts – and no one outside of the police or the coroner’s office has the qualifications to make judgments on the matter.
For the rest of us, the only respectful – and responsible – reaction at present is to express our sadness and empathy for those who grieve, no matter the cause of the tragedy.