It’s a complicated time. Global conflicts can hit close to home, leading to workplace anxiety, zapping productivity and creating liabilities for organizations.
The more people in a workforce, the more potential for breakdowns in communication and even serious tension when violence erupts around the world. Add to these current events the toxic accelerant of unregulated, hyper-populist social media algorithms, and an increase in disputes and hate speech even in polite, civilized Canada becomes inevitable.
But there is a way for employees and even leaders to responsibly share their political views on social media or in other public arenas if they feel they must. Diplomacy, patience and, yes, empathy are essential.
There is one overall rule that has never failed me in my 20+ years of broadcasting both mundane and occasionally controversial views, a rule so simple that even a young child could easily adopt it: No stereotyping.
Let’s briefly examine the principle and why it matters to Canadians.
Many of us who are stakeholders in global conflicts may find it difficult to navigate social media, or even individual conversations with friends and coworkers. Leadership at the very top certainly isn’t helping as Canadians are enduring a federal government that seems wildly out of its depth on matters of foreign policy, in particular that which is related to the Middle East.
Our contemporary model for civil discourse actually dates back to the first Trudeau era, when the current Prime Minister’s father introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, standardizing human rights laws and providing a road map for a multicultural society where all minority groups are acknowledged.
The Charter’s influence years later inspired Canada’s broadcasting system, which in the early 1990s was pushed into an industry self-regulatory model under the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), funded by major broadcasters themselves and not under the purview of government, a concept which in today’s online regulatory environment is causing serious concern among those following free speech issues on social media.
The CBSC’s Code of Ethics, which broadcasters like Bell Media and the CBC voluntarily adhere to, not unlike a press council model, stipulates the following in terms of broadcasting commentary about groups identified under the Charter:
Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
Part of the secret to Canadian civility is this non-criminal, civil self-regulatory mechanism that encourages anyone broadcasting to a wide audience to avoid stereotyping the aforementioned groups.
There are an infinite number of groups that are perhaps viewed more as modern subcultures (ex. furries, NIMBYs or promoters of Effective Altruism) that remain unprotected under the Charter. Just because a group isn’t technically identifiable under Canadian law does not grant one permission to disparage the entire group; the principle should generally apply to all groups in order to avoid conflict.
In my experience, which includes the managing of the controversial media projects, covering terrorism incidents and a few political scandals like Pastagate or those related to government corruption, there is absolutely no issue, no matter how fraught, that cannot be discussed civilly in a broadcast media context. Respect for human rights and acknowledgement of the nation, culture or other affiliated tribe that one’s opponent belongs to fosters a respectful discussion.
Most Canadians — most people — have probably already internalized this rule in their everyday interactions. Applying it to social media with consistency, rigour and truthfulness is a greater challenge. Prior to the social media era, these concerns were limited to media professionals who in most cases must abide by the CBSC code or, with many mainstream newspapers, their regional press council.
When discussing, for instance, trans rights or Indigenous reconciliation, this guideline seems obvious: Be polite and do not slander any group of people in an attempt to win an argument.
Experts on genocide, many of whom are Jewish and whose frameworks are based on lessons following the Holocaust, speak of stages toward genocide and how dehumanizing language can be an early precursor to violence. In recent weeks, mainstream Canadian broadcasters with views from various camps have met this rather disturbing threshold, with some losing prestigious media gigs as a result.
One of the most difficult aspects to broadcasting news or views on conflict is overcoming the demonization of the other side, the bad guys. Sometimes, it’s obvious who the bad guys are; other times, not. Remember in your public pronouncements on conflicts, even involving sadistic terrorism, that the goal of terrorists is to terrorize, demonize and distort the civilized underpinnings of our society; rise above the pain, no matter how difficult, and broadcast the best version of yourself in these times. It may be counterintuitive but it is what is needed.
Or, if you feel too angry or are lacking information, the option of not posting, not sharing your opinion and avoiding that tense water cooler conversation is also available to you. A free-thinking human should not be forced to hold an opinion nor be compelled to take part in a denunciation ritual, no matter the context.
With declining civility on social media and enhanced incentives for those who broadcast without it, everyone now has the opportunity to be an irresponsible shock jock. Don’t take mendacious tech disruptors up on their offer to advertise the worst version of yourself.
Photo: Frida Lannerström / Unsplash