Forget fake news; social media and comments might be bigger problem

Usually when I find myself under attack for the newspaper's coverage of a story, I'm being lit up from one specific point of view.

When I'm being attacked by both sides I usually know what's up.


When both sides are complaining, I figure we probably have the story just about right.

But that tried and true equation got stood on its head by a story that has dominated our pages the past few weeks.

That would be our coverage of the HEADstrong Foundation and their proposal to use a sprawling, old home in Swarthmore Borough as a temporary free residence for cancer patients and their care givers who are in this area getting treatment.

Look, I've been doing this awhile. I pretty much knew what the reaction was going to be when a small group of neighbors opposed the plan. They did not see this as especially controversial. In fact, they viewed it as a fairly mundane, even boring end-around being done on the borough's zoning and other codes.

They should have checked with me. I could have told them what was coming.

On online storm.

They were not in the office when I offered to the staff that, while I understood their position and was offering them a platform to explain it, which one neighbor did, I also was convinced of something else: There was no way what they were doing was going to be perceived as anything other than the classic NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) stance. They got all that and worse. They were not especially happy with our coverage, in particular what they clearly believed was our opening the floodgates of social media, where they were being flogged unmercifully.

Here's what I did not expect.

A lot of people who supported the HEADstrong plan weren't all that enamored of our coverage either.

I used my weekly Letter From the Editor to talk about one of the most heated stories we've dealt with in years.

And also as a window into this new world of journalism - in particular the online world of anonymous commenters, Twitter rants and Facebook attacks.

Ironically, I'm not the only one thinking about it.

I notice my old pal and Daily Times alum Bill Bender did a piece for the Philly Inquirer and Daily News on this whole commenting phenomenon.

A lot of people are talking about what some see as the proliferation of so-called "fake" news.

I'll be honest with you. I"m not sure that pales in comparison to what is happening on social media and comment boards. Yes, I know we are one of the main purveyors of all this, often times driving the conversation.

I'm still not convinced all of this is a good thing.

Call me a dinosaur. You won't be the first one. But keep an eye on what is happening online. It is dangerous, and it has consequences.