‘On-line’ flu infects all of us

Published 9:41 am Thursday, December 17, 2015

An article I wrote has, it would seem, gone viral. It’s starting to feel as uncomfortable as it sounds.

It’s not a great honor; it’s more like getting a severe case of the flu (which reminds me that I need to get my flu shot).

I want to apologize to the Town of Woodland and its citizens for all the cruel, vicious insults you have been subjected to recently.

The original story was accurate, fair, objective, and not at all sensationalistic. I reported what was said and I didn’t editorialize. I didn’t send it off via the Internet for republication or for comment or opinion.

I wrote the news story so the folks of Woodland could read about an action taken by their Town Council and to show that other citizens were there to comment about a pending zoning issue.

In other words, I wrote a story about participatory democracy – elected officials making decisions after citizen comments and listening directly to their town leaders.

I also wrote it so other small towns in the area could see what Woodland was doing.

It was a simple news story. No malice toward any individual or the town was intended and, frankly, there was nothing malicious about the story.

It was never intended to become a worldwide phenomenon.

For those not familiar, a newspaper story I did about the Woodland Town Council rejecting a solar farm, a run-of-the-mill story about an action by the Town Council, struck a nerve out there in Internet-Land.

“Viral” is a very good word for how this thing has spread all over the world. I’ve had media outlets calling or writing emails to request interviews from England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, California, and I don’t know where all else. I’ve ignored them all. I’m happy being an unknown non-celebrity.

Some places have actually re-written the original story to twist it out of any semblance to the original.

One site I thought did a good job is snopes.com. Oh, and the N&O follow-up article was very good.

Unfortunately, most of the news from the viral invasion is not at all good. Woodland’s Town Hall has been flooded with nasty, vicious, and quite vulgar calls by people who apparently have some sort of mistaken idea that they are superior and holier-than-thou.

Here’s how the viral thing works: People make comments about the original story, they take it and send it to the people they know, they talk about it amongst themselves, they send it to more people, who send it to more people, etc.

Pretty soon it’s all over the place in different clusters of people commenting about it. All these people viewing it and talking about it, even though they don’t live around here or even know where we are or who we are, attracts the attention of websites and Internet news sites. They pick it up and share it with their viewers/readers.

So it’s all over the place, with hundreds of thousands of people reading about it, expressing opinions about it, and in some cases, rewriting it to make it seem more outrageous.

Some people dispute what people in the story said, some are amused by it, but some people are just mean, nasty, and cruel.

It spreads across the globe, everywhere the Internet reaches, with varying degrees of the truth left intact.

The most hateful, monstrous people have to spew forth their most spiteful, vitriolic thoughts for everybody to see and, most unfortunate, for some folks in Woodland to hear.

I hope it’s about over with. And again, to the good folks of Woodland, I’m very sorry you caught this terrible flu from me.

Keith Hoggard is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at keith.hoggard@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.