Too many victims of the sick pen

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  • Pain still felt: Mark Pettingill at the funeral of his dear friend and colleague Shawn Crockwell (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Pain still felt: Mark Pettingill at the funeral of his dear friend and colleague Shawn Crockwell (Photograph by Akil Simmons)


“The pen is mightier than the sword”, a metonymic adage coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. A concept that communication can be a more effective tool than direct violence.

I stopped using Facebook and social media generally, and refused to read blog comments in press articles a number of years ago. Politics being what it is all over the world, there are countless times that I read things, sometimes with myself as a central character, which had no place in reality.

“Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story”, I have oft heard, particularly in politics. So my simple solution that candidly worked was to stop reading or listening to the “crazy”.

Many others in the political arena have suffered through the same nonsense; some would say if you choose to get into politics, then this is what you can expect — especially if you are outspoken as opposed to an elected lump on the log that sits on the back bench, sometimes on the front bench, and never engages in a real debate in their whole political career.

Those “absent” MPs rarely get caught in the conspiracy-theory drama. They are the proverbial deer that freeze in the glare of the lights of the oncoming truck, so, understandably they avoid going anywhere near the road, collect the paycheque and walk around their neighbourhoods, do a lot of talking in kitchens, sometimes creating scandal with a whisper and a wink. They know who they are.

But I digress, with a not so subtle point about weaker politicians who don’t do the work they should be doing in Parliament.

What really has prompted my writing is the result of a simmering contempt for social media’s anonymous postings that are designed to create conspiracy theories and hurt other people with what can be described at times only as a malicious, sociopathic intent.

Many people have been the recipient of photographs of accidents, shootings — videos of the actual event — murder victims lying prone before the police arrive and all other kinds of candidly offensive material that for families of loved ones is deeply and emotionally damaging material.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me this week came in the wake of the tragedy of a young rugby player visiting our island with his college team, only to meet with a heart-wrenching, tragic and untimely end.

It is astounding that the Bermuda Police, who on far too many occasions have to spend valuable time and resource chasing down conspiracy theories and false reports, had to make a public announcement that certain reports circulating on social media were absolutely false. We saw this type of thing, of course, subsequent to the passing of Shawn Crockwell last June, when conspiracy theory was rife and perpetuated by the wicked and deluded.

The trouble is that the diminished perpetrators of this ilk hide behind the pseudonym as their cover of choice and engage in the esoteric rant that obviously gives them some secret delight, but no actual personal attention or responsibility. It’s kind of a twisted narcissism that many serial killers exhibit: the ability to strike fear and misery while remaining anonymous.

The newspapers and the legitimate media are subject to strict rules about what they print and announce, although they themselves at times seem keen to rely on a “source” who effectively makes use of the supposedly legitimate media to spin their web of deceit. It was heartening to see recent legal action taken in such regard. The “fake news” or social media, which seems to be an addiction, is the chosen go-to for so many people who will seemingly buy into nonsense at the drop of a hat.

“Where did you hear that?” one asks.

“It’s all over Facebook” comes the reply.

Wow. Posted by “Truth Hurts” or some other nonsense cover that a cowardly “writer” hides behind. I say coward because these people who make these things up are simply malicious bullies, and like all bullies, they are cowards. They lack the courage or fortitude to express an opinion and stand by it, or worse — as in the case of recent tragic events — their lives are so lacking, boring or wanting in attention that they simply embark in the egregious pastime of making things up for their own personal, twisted jollies.

I would encourage the majority of right-minded people in our society to simply hit “delete”. If you must read the nonsense, then at least take a breath and wait for the facts to unfold before standing around the water cooler and indulging in the conversation that inevitably begins with the words “I heard”.

If you find yourself about to make the forgoing utterance as your opening line in a conversation, perhaps stop to take a breath and give pause for a moment that you are part of the problem, part of the conspiracy to create mischief, and you are doing the bidding of the nasty little person hiding in the shadows and causing social drama and potentially irreparable emotional damage with the written word.

Most of us never met Mark Dombroski and I cannot fathom how feeble any attempt to beguile his family from the overwhelming loss they have suffered would be words of mine or countless other Bermudians. But, of course, there are so many of us who in some small private way have an ache in our hearts for them and pray — yes, I said pray — that somehow their grief by faith in a higher power may be assuaged.

As for the liars, the spinners, the emotional and deliberately evil “writers” that hit “send” without conscience, there may be some forgiveness for you if you choose to account or show remorse. But, of course, we’ll never know who you are, so you no doubt will simply carry on in your sad and lonely little world.

Perhaps the rest of us can help to curb the hurtful power these serial misfits wield by refusing to engage. We can all be part of the same hypocrisy at times when the headiness of gossip presents itself to us; perhaps some reflection on this recent tragedy and sad social-media posts that followed can give us all pause for thought on the merciless and hurtful power that the “sick” pen can wield.

Mark Pettingill, a lawyer in private practice, is a former attorney-general and MP

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Published Mar 23, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 23, 2018 at 8:28 am)

Too many victims of the sick pen

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