Lynch mobs are alive and well in 21st century social media

It is now evident that the rush to judgment that followed Conservative Senator Mike Duffy’s charges of fraud and breach of trust over expense bills charged to the Senate of Canada would have been more appropriately levied at former Prime Minister Harper’s office and the slack Senate regulations of the time rather that at Mr. Duffy himself.

In finding Mr. Duffy innocent of all 31 charges the Crown had leveled against him 2 1/2 years ago, the judge presiding over the six-month long trial was clearly sending a message to the Senate that their rules needed to be tightened up as, in Mr. Duffy’s case, all charges set against him proved to be within the latitude allowed for expense according to Senate rules.

The new government leader of the Senate, Peter Harder, has addressed this issue and has stated that when Mr. Duffy returns to the Senate (as he has stated he plans to do) he will be returning to a “different Senate.”

Presumably, the rules have been tightened, largely because of the perceived misuse of Senate funds by Mr. Duffy, also by Senators Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb (who still faces charges that still have not been proven in court) and Patrick Brazeau, among others, who have yet to come to trial on similar charges.

It’s a fair bet that Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau can look forward to an outcome similar to Mr. Duffy’s, all things being equal, because of the precedent set in the Duffy judgment delivered last week.

In fact, Mr. Duffy was found to have been acting within the rules that were in place when he was appointed to the Senate. He was also found to have been given direction to follow this course by senior senators in his own party and by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and by the former chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, Nigel Wright.

The rush to judgment that was premised on the assumption that Mr. Duffy was doubtless guilty as charged was fueled by the national media and fanned to a feeding frenzied state by social media.

That judgement ended up not being true, as the judge determined, but this is a classic case of being found guilty before the fact.

And this, in turn, is a decided disadvantage of the immediacy of social media where everyone can say and share their opinions no matter how ill-informed.

There is an old adage that says that if you tell a lie often enough it will eventually be taken as the truth.

That is the genesis of The Big Lie: when Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in the 1930s and he and his inner circle of Nazi theorists began to tell the population that the Jews among them, already an unpopular minority, were solely responsible for the financial ills that had befallen Germany since the end of the First World War, and when that was said often enough, people were predisposed to  believe it and so the way was paved for the Nazis to attempt to exterminate the Jewish population from central Europe.

This is an extreme example but it’s one with which most of us are familiar.

On a much smaller scale, this presumption of guilt was what happened to Senator Duffy.

We should all be mindful of the harm that can be done if we engage, through social media, in herd mentality.