Martine Rolls: Free for all

Social media offers an easy platform for people to connect, to share experiences with those who aren't close by, and it's a great place to post positive, uplifting messages.

But as with most things that involve people, there is also a darker side to it all.

Facebook has been used for bullying, stalking, scamming and bragging, and studies have been released on how damaging social media can be for some people's self-esteem.

Facebook can be used to be totally vile and nasty.

I have close to 400 friends on Facebook and most of these people I have at least met once or twice. Since I've been an enthusiastic (addicted) user, I've seen plenty of catfights showing up in the newsfeed.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

I thought most of those were very amusing, but no doubt they were hurtful for the 'friends' involved. In case you didn't see our front page story on Monday, Julia Proverbs and Carly Gibbs wrote how a smear campaign reared its ugly head on the support page for sick toddler Sativa Eagle from Tauranga.

Someone calling herself Lily Greer had posted some rather nasty comments on the fundraising and support page that was set up for this now 19-month-old girl who is gravely ill.

The original comment stated that the parents were pretending to be separated and claiming two benefits.

It said "how dare you ask for help and fundraising when you are buying labelled clothing, getting tattoos done and buying golf clubs."

The page called 'Please help Baby Sativa & her Family fight Leukemia' has close to 2500 likes, and many of these people have made donations to keep this family going throughout their ordeal. Others are parents of sick children themselves, and have a clear understanding of what the Eagle family is really going through.

When the link to our story was posted on the Facebook support page, many comments followed, like one from Gloria McIsaac, who said: "I hope that you find a way to feel all the support that is around you and ignore negative accusations. Use your time and energy on things more useful like your amazing angel that is showing the world she is not going anywhere without a good fight."

Sativa's parents explained everything in Monday's story, but many people said on the online forums where the link was posted that they shouldn't have to.

Around 90 per cent of all comments are in support of the family, and people say that they don't care what the donated money is used for. But sure enough, more nasty comments were posted underneath the story on our website.

While keeping a close eye on it, I have decided to let this discussion largely moderate itself as it became an interesting discussion on the freedom of speech.

It all started with a remark from someone who goes by the name of Brian123, who said: "with a name like Sativa these parents are probably all they accused of."

A reply from kawerauk1d soon followed, which said: "with a name like brian 123 u must be a *$#@wit. People donate things to the family so they can choose what they want to do with them. I hope baby Sativa gets well soon. And as for the Brians in the world, get a life you heartless mug."

Then kiaoro2u said: "Some people may not be aware, but Sativa is supposedly the name for Cannabis or Hemp, so Brian is entitled to his opinion, just like the rest of us." This was followed by a warm wish for Sativa and her family.

Commenting on most websites, including ours, can be done anonymously.

Not all stories have commenting enabled, but people have the freedom to post whatever they want on the stories that do.

Posts only get deleted or edited if they contain racist, sexist, or defamatory remarks. If they have swear words in them, they automatically end up in the moderation queue.

Other comments that get deleted are ones with non-related commercial messages in them.

As the online editor for the Bay of Plenty Times, I encourage this freedom. It brings out the best debates.

Then again, it can't be avoided that hurtful things get posted from time to time.

If you see a comment that you find disrespectful, you can flag it and our staff will have a closer look.

The web is what you make of it. It's a weird and wonderful playground, but also a very much lawless and rule-less beast.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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