Saturday, August 29, 2009

Courage by Internet

All my life I have heard and used the phrase "courage juice" to describe alcohol. It seems that when people drink it, a little too much I might add, they seem emboldened to say what is really on their minds. A loss of inhibition, if you will. Well, I can truly say that the Internet is the "courage source" for a lot of people as well.

Being in the public eye means you receive a lot of scrutiny and criticism, especially from people that are your constituents. Most of the time they wait until a town hall meeting or they form their opinions based on news stories, then hem you up in the grocery store or even call you at home around dinner time. However, in those settings, you see them eye-to-eye (or at least hear their voice), listen to their viewpoint and then correct them if the facts are skewed or acknowledge them positively when they are right.

However, on the Internet, people are embolden to make opinions about you, attack your character, misrepresent the facts and they are miles away from you, hiding behind the comfort of a keyboard and a computer screen. Case in point, another blogger picked up my blog about my desire to be Governor of Mississippi and posted it on his site. One of his regulars, I think his user name was "Crusader", made an incorrect reference to my legislative record. He stated I was not qualified to run for governor because I had not gotten anything passed in the Mississippi Legislature. He was using a blatant lie to attack my credibility as a public servant. If you go to www.erikfleming.org and click on "Legislative Highlights", one can see the bills I had become law during my nine years in the House of Representatives.

Now I could have done like in years past and challenged him directly on that site, but I found out that it is a tedious exercise to do that on every blog that has something posted on me. Google Erik Fleming and see what you find. Some of my Facebook friends have even contributed to this misinformation about my character and are unapologetic about it because they have the "courage source" to rely on. Any mistakes I have made I have always lived up to them. But you will find it hard to counter lie after lie after lie.

But the Internet gives a lot of people cover. They don't have to physically confront you, they never have to be held accountable for what they say, they can even alter your Wikipedia file with inaccuracies, or highlight a negative viewpoint without your permission or knowledge. To me that is a false sense of courage. I have been known to confront my enemies head-on and deal with the toughest issues of the day candidly. However, one opponent labeled that style as a "maverick" approach.

In this day and age of technology, maybe that is a true assessment. Maybe it is more acceptable to lob grenades instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat. But just call me old school, I'm from the "say it to my face" generation. If you would not say it to me in a grocery store or a town hall, then why say it in a forum where I may not ever read it, therefore can't defend it.

I like my Facebook forum better because at least the people responding to it are people that one, have signed up as friends and two, I can see faces and study profiles to understand their viewpoints. We may not agree on everything and most of the time I don't even enter into the debate, but at least there is some of that old school, in your face debating that I think is essential to public discourse.

As some people can attest, I can dish it as well as I can take it, so this is not a bitching session. I just don't like the current rules of engagement in the majority of the Internet weblog forums. Maybe someday we can go back to the days when people can say the courage of their convictions out in the open again, but for now it is what it is. All I ask, if it is not too much, is get your facts straight before steppin' to me.