Definitely Not the Opera

What guest host Chris dela Torre learned about online shaming

I love social media. Its immediacy, its intimacy and its straightforward nature is allowing us to communicate in ways that simply weren't possible not long ago. But putting this show together has been eyeopening - even a bit disturbing.
Calgary boy and DNTO guest host Chris dela Torre. (Sara Tate / CBC)

Hi everybody! Nice to digitally meet you. I'm thrilled to be filling in for Sook-Yin this week and I hope you enjoy the show we've put together for you — all about online shaming. It's a topic that has fascinated me for years... and sadly seems to be more relevant with each passing day. 

First off, as someone who was born just months before the "millennial" cut-off and has clear memories of a pre-internet childhood, let me just say that I love social media. Especially Twitter. Its immediacy, its intimacy and its straightforward nature allow us to communicate in ways that simply weren't possible before.

But putting this show together has been eye-opening — even a bit disturbing. It's helped me realize how dangerous and unhealthy digital communication can be. And yes, this goes for Facebook or any other online forum too.

Try this little exercise with me: open any of your social media right now and read through the mentions or comments for any public figure. Or open ANY news site and read the first five comments. I'll bet you $1,000 you just consumed online hate (if not, your cheque's in the mail). I mean... isn't that even a little bit problematic?

When it comes to public figures in on the internet, it's almost like a switch goes off. Many of us forget there are actual human beings on the other side of that "verified" Twitter check mark. And even if the public figure in question isn't reading or answering comments personally, someone is consuming all that negativity — and all those mean tweets and posts have the potential to do some very real damage. In the case of MP Michelle Rempel, what some would mistake as online banter was actually something much more menacing and dangerous.

Of course, online hate isn't just reserved for politicians or celebrities. In fact, you don't even need to use the internet to be shamed on it. Just ask Sean O'Brien, aka #thedancingman. You can be merrily minding your own business and someone could snap your photo, upload it, and make fun of you... all behind your back and in front of an audience of potentially millions.

On some level, many of us are already familiar with the darker side of social media, even if we haven't been personally cyberbullied. It has become increasingly clear that nothing is truly impermanent when it comes to the web: every last embarrassing drunk photo, every spur-of-the-moment insult, and every misguided attempt at humour at someone else's expense.

As a Calgarian, I was certainly familiar with the story of MLA Deborah Drever, but it wasn't until I spoke to her for this episode that I understood what it's really like for someone's past to have such a profound effect on one's present.

Even after meeting all these people who've lived through an online shaming experience, I can't stop thinking about what we didn't learn. In the end, we may never really know why so many people get really mean when behind a screen, or why a conversation can quickly turn negative simply because it's being conducted online.

All we do know is that all of us — shamers, victims, haters and supporters — are in this together. And that includes everyone that isn't on the internet, too. So we should probably be nice to each other, huh?

I hope you enjoy our show. It was a pleasure taking on this topic and an even greater pleasure to work with the incredible DNTO team. We'd love to hear your thoughts, so please don't hesitate to reach out — just tweet us @teamdnto or reach me directly @chrisdelatorre.