Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Surviving a social media avalanche: 'The online audience (especially Twitter) can be lightning quick to judge, instantaneous to condemn, and merciless in sentencing'

I posted the following to Facebook on Sunday, Jan. 28th, in response to a controversial post two days previous. 

Good day NL, all ships at sea, and Southern Shore fisherman Keith Hawkins, who’s been brutalized on social media in recent days, a pounding he didn’t expect nor deserve. 

I have apologized to Keith personally — what happened is my fault — an apology he’s been good enough to accept, but it’s important to provide clarity on why I’m sorry.
This past Thursday morning (Jan. 25th), officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) held a meeting in Ferryland for local inshore harvesters. 

It was the 16th in a series of 20 meetings DFO has organized around the province to hear directly from harvesters, which hasn’t happened in a generation.

Indeed, during the Ferryland meeting an older fisherman made it a point to say he’s been fishing since 1973 (45 years), and it was the first time DFO has held direct, face-to-face consultation. 

The feds have left that to the FFAW-Unifor, but many harvesters have complained the union no longer speaks for them. 

DFO was more or less shamed into holding consultations.

More than 50 harvesters showed up in Ferryland (one of the better turnouts), including Keith, who I knew would have much to say. 

He spoke first, with purpose and passion.
As President of FISH-NL, I had met with Keith last year about the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board (PFHCB), an arm of the FFAW/Unifor that acts as gatekeeper into the NL fishery. 

Keith has had a problem with the certification board from the get-go, and the fact it wasn’t voted into being by harvesters, so much as quietly thrust upon them. 

The fact is you've got to practically starve yourself for five years to become a struggling fisherman/woman. 

To qualify for a core enterprise, a harvester must first work for five years as a full-time crewman (making $10,000-15,000 a year in the small-boat fleet), and if you hold a full-time job outside the fishery you’re immediately disqualified. 

Of all the complaints I deal with, the PFHCB — or the difficulty in becoming a harvester — tops the list. 

I tell people straight up there’s nothing I can do for them.

Earlier this month I referred one young man to the CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast, which aired his story. 
The PFHCB bills itself as “independent and arm’s length,” but the reality is the certification board is a part of the FFAW-Unifor — most of the board of directors are union executive. 

In fact, the union and the PFHCB jointly own the Richard Cashin building they’re both housed in, which I pointed out at the Ferryland meeting after the DFO chair spoke about “conspiracy theories.”
Keith said most harvesters are closer to retirement than starting out, and most crews are retirees who fish to supplement their pensions. 

“I feel like a Jew at a Nazi convention,” Keith said, going on to say the PFHCB was “set up to eliminate us,” and should be scrapped.

After the meeting, I wrote an overview of what was said/the sentiments expressed that I posted on Facebook, as I’ve done with the other meetings, so that harvesters know what’s being said on all coasts.

Only I got the quote wrong. 

I wrote it down correctly in my notebook, but made a mistake when I typed it out for the Facebook post.

“I feel like a Jew at a Nazi concentration camp,” I wrote. 

Again — my mistake. 
The complaints began soon after the quote was posted, a backlash that led FISH-NL to remove it. 

The next morning I spoke on VOCM’s Open Line, with follow-up interviews on NTV and CBC. 

I told the media that nothing is comparable to the Holocaust, and the murder of 6 million people.


That’s not what Keith meant, and that’s not what I (or anyone else at the Ferryland meeting, as far as I could see) took him to mean.

As a former journalist, I should have foreseen a backlash, but didn’t. 

As an MP, I’ve been to Israel’s Holocaust museum, and stood at the top of Masada and felt its meaning to the Jewish people.

Keith, as he would say in a later interview, toured Poland’s Auschwitz concentration camp a few years ago. 

We both understood the two are not comparable. 

The point of his overall comments remains the core message: Keith, and many harvesters like him, believe there is an agenda to “eliminate” NL’s inshore fishery, and much of rural NL with it.

Keith was talking about cultural genocide, not a literal one.

I, and others, thought that was obvious.
Personally, I have been at the brutal end of a social media backlash, and I can say with authority it’s not only crushing on you personally, but your partner/children/parents/family/friends/community.

The Twitter/Facebook messages are there for all to see. 

I have not read most of them. I knew from past experience to disconnect once the avalanche began, to protect myself from the personal blows. 

Keith, a fisherman for all his life who only recently learned his way around a computer/Facebook so he could learn what was happening in the fishery, felt the full brutal force of the social media pile up.

The online audience (especially Twitter) can be lightning quick to judge, instantaneous to condemn, and merciless in sentencing. 

I feel horrible that Keith had to experience that though my error. 

For that reason I cannot apologize enough. 
FISH-NL and its members believe the inshore fishery and our fishing culture are under threat, and we’re doing our best to point it out and find solutions. 

Onwards and upwards.

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