We want to hear your opinion

Published 7:37 pm Friday, October 25, 2019

A Daily Leader reader writes a letter for me every day — or just about every day. She dates them and sends a week’s worth at a time to my office on Railroad Avenue.

They are not for publication, but rather for my own education and enlightenment. She covers a broad range of topics (you have to if you write a letter each day). She has written letters about President Trump, President Obama, God, religion, love, crime, healthcare, human trafficking; the list goes on and on.

She is passionate about a range of issues and she has an opinion. Those are the only two requirements for submitting an opinion article to the newspaper. And we always want more opinion articles.

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In general, Americans appear to have become more opinionated in recent years. It seems everyone is ready to defend his/her position on just about any topic. Facebook, created in 2004 so Mark Zuckerberg could rank the attractiveness of college students, morphed first into a place for vacation photos and now is the place where people fight over their differences. They do so passionately, often angrily. People are demeaned, bullied and often libeled by commenters.

Despite the hope that Facebook could make the world a better, more connected place it has instead driven us further into our own little worlds. Anyone who dares voice an opinion that runs counter to that world is vilified.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if people could disagree and still be courteous and understanding? What if people didn’t hide behind a computer screen but were willing to express their opinions in a place where a variety of viewpoints are welcomed?  What if you knew those opinions were going to be read by your pastor, your mother and the people you work with every day? And what if those viewpoints were printed for all to see and distributed across the community? And — here’s the biggest one — what if your opinions came with some responsibility and liability?

Opinion writing has moved from newspaper pages to Facebook but not for the reasons most people think. In my view, people quit writing letters to the editor and started posting angry diatribes on Facebook because they no longer wanted the responsibility that should accompany their words. It’s not because people think no one will read their opinions in the newspaper, but because they know people will read them. And not just friends and family, but the entire community.

If you libel (a written defamation) someone on Facebook, there are few consequences. Technically, the law doesn’t really differentiate between libel on Facebook and libel in a newspaper. But the public does.

How many times have you read on Facebook something untrue that defamed either you or someone you know? How many times did you hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit against the author?

But, let that exact same comment show up in the newspaper and you can bet our lawyer will hear about it.

People seem to think that words carry less weight on Facebook compared to a medium like newspapers. We regularly hear “I can’t believe he said that in the newspaper!” when no one would be surprised to see those words on Facebook.

In general, it seems people place more importance on words actually printed on paper than words appearing on a screen — or simply spoken.

It may be why people tend to be respectful and understanding when they write opinion articles for the newspaper. They know each and every word will be scrutinized, and those words better be accurate.

I often write opinions that I know people in my community, my church — even my house — will disagree with. I don’t fear being kicked out of any of those places. Generally speaking, people are willing to hear different opinions when they come from a place of understanding and not a place of hate. The people who disagree with what I write haven’t yet tried to bully me, attack me, defame me or anything else except talk about me when I leave the room.

I don’t think we would have similarly pleasant interactions on Facebook. To test this theory, I have taken the exact same opinion articles I have written for the newspaper and posted them on Facebook. It wasn’t pretty.

Comments ranged from: “What gives you the right to say things like this you moron?” to “Who do you think you are writing about (fill in the topic here).” My response was simple: “The constitution gives me the right and I’m the publisher of the newspaper. It’s literally my job to write those things.”

At that point, all hell broke loose. The comments were poison. Some people were mad enough to meet up and fight. These were otherwise normal, highly functioning individuals who were ready to duke it out like school-age boys on a playground, just because they disagreed with my viewpoint on a particular topic.

I was convinced then and there that Facebook isn’t the place for healthy debate. It may still be the place for vacation photos, but it’s also the place where people choose hate more often than understanding. It’s where people go to become the worst versions of themselves  — and are cheered on along the way.

So, here’s my proposal to cleanse this stain from our society: take a little break from Facebook, submit a letter to the editor and try to understand the folks on the other side of an issue. If we print your words, they will carry some liability — what you write better be true — but your words will also have more impact.

Thousands of your friends, neighbors, co-workers and perfect strangers will read what you write. They will read your words differently than they will read the junk and poison on Facebook. They may disagree with you, but they will have a newfound respect for you, simply because you were brave enough to put your thoughts to paper and sign your name beneath them.

No matter your viewpoint, we have a place for you here on the newspaper’s opinion page.

Email Publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com

Luke Horton

Publisher, The Daily Leader/The Prentiss Headlight

128 N. Railroad Ave., Brookhaven, MS 39602

Cell: 601-938-0727

Office: 601-265-5299