When I want evidence that all is not well in the world I typically turn to sports pages on the Internet so I peruse readers’ comments following stories. It is a never-ending source of fascination to read critical responses and insults from mostly anonymous posters. Talk is cheap, and never cheaper when one doesn’t have to identify oneself.
Sports websites aren’t the only areas that provide such entertainment. Browse through comments on, say, National Public Radio’s site and contributors get downright vicious. The typical listener of NPR, apparently, is a Democrat, so Republicans lurk on the site, taking umbrage at every perceived “left wing” comment.
Sometimes the comments come as a surprise, though. The other day I went to the CBC website to read about the recent deaths of three children who suffocated on their Alberta farm. They were playing in a grain truck during harvest and were covered by grain. Attempts to dig them out were fruitless. It was a horrific incident that had a level of bizarreness to it. The parents, devout Christians who were home-schooling the three girls (and their younger brother, who was not killed), had expressed gratitude for their community’s support and said they took solace knowing they would be reunited with their kids in an afterlife.
The story that caught my attention was written a week or so after the tragedy and focused on a call from the Alberta’s Farmworkers Union for the province to do more to protect children on farms. It did seem a little odd, the story and the demand, because the kids weren’t working, but playing.
Readers picked up on the union leader’s timing, most taking offense at what they considered to be grandstanding on his part. Others had other opinions, too.
“I find this union’s exploitation of this tragic incident very disturbing,” wrote one.
“I find your callousness disturbing,” responded another.
A third chimed in. “Or, you could just be a good parent who knows their children, what they are doing and where they are. Or do children mind themselves on the farm cause everyone is too busy being a farmer. Ludicrous.”
Then another responded to the union issue.
“How about the nanny state just keep its nose out of things? More rules is never the answer.”
Another writer commented, ignoring the fact the children were not working when they died.
“It’s not about more rules, it’s about the same rules for all workers. How can one possibly justify the lack of workers safety rules for farm workers?”
One commenter, again anonymous, took the opportunity to defend life on the farm, and then reiterated his opinions a dozen or more times as he responded to other comments.
“Kids have lived on farms as long as there has been farms, and unfortunately, accidents happen when kids play at home. That’s all this is, kids, playing at home when tragedy struck.”
Not surprisingly, others took offense at the laissez faire attitude.
For instance: “Simply wrong response by a very stupid T in BC (the previous writer’s nom de plume).
“How about if these children were your relatives?
“Accidents happen, yeah, that is why we call them accidents.
“People died by the thousands because of no seat belts, that is why we call them accidents.
“How stupid and I mean very stupid can some people like you actually be… You take the first prize here, my friend.”
T in BC replied.
“Well, considering I lived around farms my entire life, and have family friends that I grew up with that owned farms, which we all played on, I know how dangerous farms can be. That isn’t to say, that no family should live and work on a farm because it’s dangerous. And to compare this to not wearing a seatbelt, shows just how ignorant you are to the facts of life on a farm.
“The fact remains, kids will be kids. This was a tragic example of just how dangerous farms are, but to say that more regulation is the solution is short sighted at best. By that argument, every playground should also be heavily regulated, as children can be hurt whilst playing there as well. I don’t doubt for a second these parents didn’t tell their kids about the dangers around them, however any parent that has lost their child to a preventable accident would think they should have done more. I’m not saying they did everything they could, but I also realize what life is like growing up on a farm…something you obviously don’t by your choice of examples.”
There is, of course, never any real end to these threads of opinions. They either peter out after several days or the website host closes down comments.
Other commenters accused the parents of neglect and called for criminal charges to be laid.
Curiously, all of the comments were made before any investigation has indicated just how this tragedy happened. None knew more facts than what news reports carried, but all felt compelled to comment before an investigation had been complete. In a quick scroll through the comments I didn’t find one poster’s actual name. All comments were made in the safety of anonymity.
We don’t publish anonymous letters in the Advance and I would be much happier if that policy extended to Internet sites as well.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.