Let’s step back, just for a minute, from the Meme, social media piling on and a case study in how not to handle a crisis.
Let’s step back and ask ourselves have we lost the ability to discuss issues, where dissenting opinion is encouraged and thoughtful debate occurs?
Let’s step back and take a look at both sides of the Meme shared by radio host Kerri Wynne MacLeod, a beloved Island character known for her quick wit and kind heart.
Let’s step back and ask, can an image be seen as hateful to some and educational to others?
The answer is yes.
This is likely to send social media chirpers scrambling for their phone, aghast the ‘accepted’ modus operandi of social media - the loudest wins - is questioned by an aging white male scribe.
Social media yelling started before Donald Trump, but really took off during his presidency. It became about shouting down and insults, not facts or debate. There is a segment of society so sure of their perspective they simply do not believe any other option can exist. Their world is painted in only two colours - black or white. No middle ground. No compromise. No engaged discussion.
We see it in efforts to convince anti-vaxxers the wrongness of their ways. If we just tell them repeatedly how stupid they are, surely they will come around to our enlightened thinking.
We see it in universities abdicating their traditional role of spurring debate to educate, opting instead for the safety of political correctness.
How’s that working?
And this leads us to the Meme. Two opposing camps divided as either ‘with Kerri or the LGBTQ community’. Let’s agree on a couple of things. Kerri Wynne is an incredible human and talent, who is paid to provoke. It should come as no surprise to Islanders (including her employer) when she does just that. We can also agree that the LGBTQ community faces hate and discrimination regularly. Pride flags are routinely torn down. A Confederate flag, and all the hatred it represents, was even flown by an Islander recently. Neither of these two examples stirred anywhere near the level of moral outrage mustered in 140 characters or Facebook comments last week.
The two sides became so encamped that both missed the bigger issue.
The Meme attempted, through a birds and bees analogy, to show how society has evolved from a male and female world to something much broader; where individuals have the absolute right to identify, through sex, gender and sexual orientation, any way they like. It’s an important evolution. Millennials see the world with a different eye. They don’t accept the definitions society attempts to place on them.
Some members of the LGBTQ community, including Pride PEI, viewed the Meme as hate. Kerri Wynne apologized and deleted the post. Then her employer apologized. Then her employer apologized again with an odd joint statement from Pride PEI, the station’s owner and radio host.
Opposition within the LGBTQ community was far from unanimous. Some lamented the outrage when more serious issues go unaddressed. Others, in and out of the LGBTQ community, saw it as an educational opportunity. Humour is often a powerful tool, but in this case it was marginalized not utilized.
It’s wonderful to see our society transition to one that is broader and more inclusive. No one should ever need to justify how they live. But lost in the hyperbolic rhetoric on both sides was an opportunity to talk about change. Many Islanders find expansion of sexual definitions difficult to understand. It doesn’t make them ignorant or wrong. For most it is a reality of when and how they were raised.
There seems to be an assumption that change does not require explanation. That’s dangerous. Fear grows in a vacuum void of engaged discussion. Do you think any Islander would dare ask a sincere question about the Meme in the middle of the back and forth? Not a hope in hell. They would be terrified, with cause, of getting pummeled on social media. Outrage stifled any hope of education, a responsibility that rests with all of us.
The Meme is a tale of overreaction on both sides, and a lost opportunity to educate for all.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com