The hasty reactions to the Covington Catholic High School controversy two weeks ago reveal a sinister side of the social media phenomenon we call “instant news.”
Perniciously blunt, many commentators excoriated the students. Even “well-respected” journalists plundered their twitter feeds with unfounded condemnations. One pundit even called for public “doxxing” (a newfound tool meant to reveal personal information, thus inciting violence toward opponents). Later videos revealed the harrowing fear in the mind of every journalist: “maybe we jumped the gun.” In a former age, this story would not make national news. And if it did make news, it wouldn’t air without full vetting and a robust examination of the facts. But as alluded to by Bishop Robert Barron, the age of viral videos is the age of the accuser: condemn first, seek the truth later.
Sadly, this not only distorts journalistic integrity, but creates an even larger divide among the body politic. Catholic commentators are not immune from the dangers this precarious environment affords. Social media and the blogosphere may indeed offer valuable instruments for evangelization and dialogue. But like any instrument, its value is only as good as its agent. Blinded by a false sense of security, some writers may use these instruments for less virtuous goals.
Backbiting, detraction, and even calumny can too easily creep into our discourse. Rash judgment can ruin a person’s reputation indefinitely. Catholic commentators must remember the words of the Master: the truth will set us free.