COLUMN: How polarized we have become

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Where has the middle ground gone? You know, the space for compromise, commonality, or for viewing with merit both sides of a dispute.

This is a column about online comments regarding North Kent Rhonda Jubenville’s pay being docked by council following a report by the Integrity Commissioner, Mary Ellen Bench. But bear with me for a moment.

Social media is destroying the middle ground of debate, and pretty much at every level of discourse. The various online social platforms want you stay on their sites longer, to be exposed to their advertising for an extended period of time and, therefore, make them more cash. These platforms have ultimately helped taint society, pushing us to extremes.

The edgy content keeps people engaged on social media, and slowly shifts people’s belief structure to one extreme or the other. As a result, there is no grey, only black or white for many people.

Or, in political circles, only left or right.

Sadly, this has occurred to a lesser extent on some news content platforms as well.

Swing back to what occurred recently in Chatham-Kent council chambers. Jubenville, the subject of a detailed investigation by the Integrity Commissioner, was sanctioned three-months’ pay by council, as the body backed the commissioner’s recommendation for the harshest penalty possible.

They said Jubenville violated council’s code of conduct, something by which all councillors agree to abide when they take office.

Council’s 13-3 vote to sanction Jubenville revolved around an investigation into social media posts and actions taken by Jubenville, beginning in April.

Bench said she determined the first-term councillor had used her influence to bully and silence her critics.

Thirteen councillors agreed with Bench. Three backed Jubenville.

The North Kent councillor has a vocal and loyal support group. Seeing how they respond to matters is quite telling and speaks to the polarization that is occurring.

I viewed the council meeting through Your TV’s YouTube channel, while reporter Pam Wright attended in person. The comments I saw on YouTube were at times chilling.

As an opinion writer, I learned long ago to attack issues, not individuals. Social media just paves the way for people to attack individuals, sadly.

That was on display the night of the council meeting. If a councillor did not support Jubenville, the commenters swooped in.

What follows are a number of online comments from that night and the YouTube “name” to which they are attributed. Keep in mind, not all names online are the person’s actual name. I did not change punctuation or spelling.

Laura Andreea​ – “Like I’m going to take anyone wearing a rainbow shirt seriously.” This was made when Coun. Marjorie Crew put forward the motion to dock Jubenville’s pay. Crew sported a Pride shirt.

WMLARSH – “​That noise that is made when You run Your finger nails on the chalk board That is what comes to my mind when that lady speaks!” This was made in reference to Bench.

rickshabs – “Even the devil tried to quote scripture, incorrectly btw.” This comment showed up after South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson ended his comment on the matter by quoting Paul the Apostle from the New Testament.

Apparently, council is also an extension of the federal government, at least according to one commenter.

Mike Mcdonald​ – “Rhonda was voted in by the people for the people…she was not voted in to follow the federal Trudeau woke agenda..too bad all the rest of these councilors are bought and submissive to that r.” I’m not sure where the comment was ultimately going, as it ended with the “r,” but apparently to the commenter, any councillor who voted in favour of the motion was following “the federal Trudeau woke agenda,” whatever exactly that is. I’m no fan of the sitting prime minister, but to think he has the power to sway a municipal council in strong Conservative territory is laughable.

There was the odd, bold voice in the comment string that backed the majority of council. But those situations typically did not end well.

Sheri Swan – “​I support all councelors following the rules they have voted to uphold.”

Laura Andreea – “​Sure Sheri we all know what you’d do in the name of what some loser politician tells you, despite whether it’s actually right or wrong.”

Sheri Swan – “​excuse me?? you have no right to assume anything about me.”

That exchange was made in the middle of Jubenville supporters criticizing councillors for taking umbrage with Rhonda for voicing a different opinion.

Renée Rivard – “Yep discriminate and hate everyone who doesn’t agree with your agenda.”

Yet, such discrimination was on display inside the online chat…made by people who on one hand were chastising council for what they say was discrimination, while on the other hand were effectively shouting down other chat commenters who did not agree with their own opinion.

Oh, where has the middle ground gone? How have we as a society reached this point?

Again, it’s OK to disagree with one other. We encourage everyone to feel free to express their opinion, but also to keep one’s ears open. That’s how open dialogue works.

1 COMMENT

  1. There honestly is no middle ground like you said and it seeps into in real life spaces now instead of just a few bad apples online. I quite honestly can never feel safe anymore because of how hostile people have become when I feel like years prior people could co exist even if we had different beliefs (religious,political,cultural,etc.) I feel like that time is far gone now and it leaves me and I know many others feeling quite grim. Thank you for writing about this

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