Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I left the forum

The Bowen Online Forum is a phenomenon. A small group of islanders regularly post there on issues of interest. Conversations often get heated personal insults are flung about and in general it deepens divisions in our community while providing a useful place for reactionary commentary by a few that is often taken for a majority opinion. The more vitriol that gets spilled there, the more page views it gets, and the more money the owner makes.

I posted there extensively during the national park debate, going back on a previous vow that I made never to post there again. During several months I debated with folks and speculated and ended up fighting for my point of view. Last spring I realized that I was deeply ashamed of who I had become there. I was developing a dislike for people, and found myself constantly attacking and defending. I left the forum because I didn't like the part of myself that was showing up there.

But I still read it, because it is interesting a lot of the time. Recently a poster has disappeared from the forum. She was a tireless digger of facts and a passionate advocate for her ideas. Because of an almost obsessive and dogged determination to uncover small bits of evidence in long buried documents, she developed a bit of a reputation as a good researcher and someone who unearthed "the truth."

But she suffers from a major problem, and that is confirmation bias. She proves what she wants to see and she refuses to seek counter evidence. She is not actually a researcher in this respect, and she is not actually after the truth. She unearths facts that support her position, which makes her an excellent advocate. She speaks passionately about her views, supports them with written evidence and defends herself often by insulting others who have not done the same level of research as she has done. She, and others, seem to hold the view that a verbose post with many links is not an opinion, but is the unguarded truth. It is not.

During the post park debacle as some committees were being restructured, she posted some facts about the Greenways committee based on what was in the municipal records. She used these facts to justify why that committee should be disbanded. The problem was that she didn't have all the facts. In politics there are many things that go on out of sight of the official record, and in the case of the Greenways committee, there were some egregious acts of power committed that, if they had come to light, would have provided much more context about why this committee should not have been disbanded. I learned of these facts first hand, and they are not written down.

It is not my place to expose these facts, because they were revealed to me in a personal conversation, and they were private. The point I want to make is that just because someone has some facts at hand does not mean they have all the facts. Selecting facts to support your position does not make you a beacon of truth, it makes you an advocate for a position. Confusing the two is very dangerous, especially in cases where the truth is very different from the public record.

I left the forum because it is impossible to debate with someone who has confused truth and their own beliefs. Doing so will bring out the worst instincts in you.

The forum is a lovely little playground for Bowen Island's small town narcissism. When you are embroiled there, you feel like you are solving important problems and taking important stands. There is much more to living in this place than what passes for good thinking there. We are much kinder in real life than we appear on the forum. This place is far more beautiful and compassionate. The person I am writing about is a lovely person in real life, but a completely different presence online.

S I am not returning to the forum, and it is good that my fact checking friend is not there either. It makes it clear that the place is just a place for opinions. So I'll keep mine to my blog here. You can always comment here if you want,