Hundreds of years of criminal law were spent developing a measured system to identify guilt – and to ensure that (as far as possible given the failings of all systems) the wrongly accused had rights and could clear their name. We went from feudal justice, witch-hunts, and lynch mobs to codified rights and layers of appeals. All the protect the right to a good name, built up over many years.
That takes me to the constant storms we’ve been witnessing lately on social media. Guilty until proven… uhm, until Kingdom Come seems to be the approach to any and all accusations against whomever. And it’s slowly trickling down into society at large. Just the other day I read an article about a doctor whose career was destroyed by an accusation of racism. An accusation. Don’t get me wrong, racism and any other form of discrimination or wrongdoing against a certain group are unacceptable and should be punished swiftly and severely.
However, look at what we’ve seen in the public space just in the last year. The #metoo movement may have rooted out some of the monsters out there, but we are also at risk of seeing a lot of collateral damage. And I know some will say it’s worth it in the grand scheme of things, because it’s all for the greater good. Unless, of course, you’re that one guy wrongly accused who will never get a job again. For that one guy – whether accused of racism, discrimination or of being a sexual predator (and this is where the Atticus Finch reference is thoroughly appropriate) – we must remember what justice and civility stand for. Three years ago, a Nobel laureate’s career ended up in shambles after a journalist tweeted that he had made a sexist joke during an event. To this day I find it hard to understand what really happened, and I’ve probably read every single article out there, in favour of or against him. Still, social media had his head on a silver platter. This is one example of many.
I, for one, don’t want to live in a world where someone’s life ends because they have been tried in the court of social media. I don’t want to feel comfortable in a reality where we cast a wide net and massacre all the innocents, because we’re of the belief we might get one guilty party while at it.
And we can’t just sit and watch – or, worse, go along out of fear of repercussions from the scorched earth approach we’ve seen so many times. Doing good should not come with the caveat of accepting collateral victims lightly. It’s lazy. And it’s wrong.
We are the fourth estate. And we should be there not just for society, but for the individual as well. Which is why we believe in ‘all sides of the story’ here.
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