We all talk about anti-bullying, but the orange t-shirts and nice slogans don’t mean much if our actions don’t line up with our words.

Followers of the Inuvik Facebook pages will often see members of the community called out specifically for purported transgressions.

Online dog-piling is a powerful thing and not much more than a good story is necessary for people to jump in with their own quips about the person or group in question.

This happened recently when the Inuvik Fire Department got caught in the crosshairs after seemingly failing to put out a fire on Arctic Road that went on to reignite and burn down a home.

Criticism of public departments and officials is absolutely fair and part of the gig these people signed up for, but that doesn’t mean tact and pursuing the proper channels should go out the window.

Fire Chief Jim Sawkins lightly referenced some of this in his interview after the fire, talking about “garbage on the internet” and taking responsibility for what happened.

These online rants are fair when discussing the actions of public bodies, but cross a line when they get personal and issues not related to what happened are brought in. They can quickly become more of a character assassination and smear than legitimate criticism.

Especially in such a small town, reputation can make or break a person. A bad reputation can be perpetuated through complete lies with no harm to the gossiper and all to the subject. The words of an accuser can look powerful and valid by virtue of being typed on the internet.

It’s the same circumstances that lead to such bad bullying in school, where one can be completely helpless at stopping the narrative created by someone else. Bullying is made through that power imbalance, when one party can snipe at another with no fear of retribution.

The internet has brought a whole new bully pulpit to the people. It is a huge power that is very easy to wield.

But it’s only fair those so critical of the actions of another should hold up a high moral standard of their own.

A good rule of thumb is to not say things online that you wouldn’t in a public forum in real life, and to conduct yourself with the same professionalism and tact regardless of which medium of communication you’re using.

If we want the highest ethical code to be enforced in our society, burning transgressors at the stake is not the path to that. We can’t raise our own morality through witch hunts.

Every concern and allegation in a given situation could be true. The cause could be absolutely right. Intentions could be good.

But how we pursue change matters, and if we want to pretend we believe in modelling respectful behaviour for our youth, we actually should.

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