Editor’s note: Kauai Perspective is a new monthly column in The Garden Island by former journalist and PR executive Allan Parachini, who lives and makes furniture in Kilauea.
When TGI announced a few weeks ago that it would no longer accept online comments on letters to the editor, it explained that many anonymous posters had overstepped the limits of taste and civility.
In the days that followed, 48 commenters posted reactions to this announcement. Only 18 of them used what appeared to be real names and many posted multiple comments. The rest hid behind pseudonyms like “Tunataxi” and “Payback.”
Welcome to the world of Internet-enabled modern anonymity. It’s a place where you can say the most outrageous things imaginable; engage in anonymous character assassination and disseminate scandalous rumors without identifying yourself or ever having to take ownership — and responsibility — for what you’ve said.
Many years ago, talk radio stations stopped requiring people who called in to talk shows to identify themselves as “Ted from Toonerville” or “Betty from Bettyland.” Consequently, nameless voices became emboldened because no one would ever call them on what they said. What followed was the rise of hate radio, encouraged by on-air public forums as safe havens for socially unacceptable and politically marginal views. Here on-island, the North Shore-centric community station KKCR plays the role of talk radio.
Most of the time, KKCR hosts don’t ask people to identify themselves. Yet on Kauai, with our very small population in which everyone seems to know everyone else, experienced radio people realize that guarding anonymity is more difficult because so many people may recognize someone’s unique voice.
KKCR host Felicia Cowden noted that radio is, by its very nature, more moderated than Internet postings and that part of her role is “to buffer nasty comments.” Nonetheless, she often recognizes a caller, even without asking for a name, and often will call them back after she gets off the air. Still, she said, sometimes, “they are very vulnerable, and it takes courage to speak.”
But as genuinely concerned with her listeners as Cowden is, the trend toward greater anonymity emboldening people who hide behind anonymity has clearly enabled some vicious, ugly perspectives. This is even truer online, where people can conceal their identities, locations, affiliations and actual beliefs.
The Internet — perhaps inevitably — has become a gigantic worldwide rumor mill, outstripping anything that has preceded it in human communication. Yet the truth is out there for those with an open mind and willingness to explore a little further than what immediately appears on their screen or Facebook feed. Let’s hope TGI’s decision helps foster a more reasoned discourse in our public forums.
A more reasoned approach
With her well-reasoned decision invalidating Maui County’s anti-GMO initiative, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Mollway dominated the summer’s discourse on GMOs and, in the case of Kauai in particular, pesticides.
Because the measure had been a ballot initiative, Mollway was immediately condemned for overruling the voters of Maui County. Curiously, those same outraged voices were silent a few weeks later when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state laws forbidding gay marriage — many of which resulted from voter initiatives.
It is revealing to compare the disdain for the court decision on Maui and Kauai with the support for the Supreme Court ruling that many of those same people emphatically supported. Clearly, some have a selective regard for our three-branch system of checks and balances at the state and federal levels. Striking down legislation that attempts to override established federal and state jurisdictions is part of the courts’ job description.
As all of this has transpired, unknown or forgotten, the Joint Fact-Finding Group (JFFG) has been quietly doing its work, making slow progress toward answering core questions that still preoccupy the island’s agenda. Established in the wake of the court decision that struck down Kauai’s ill-conceived pesticide control ordinance, the JFFG is led by Peter Adler of the Honolulu-based Accord 3.0 Network.
The group is deliberating an exhaustive list of 44 questions that, in Adler’s view, must be answered credibly before any additional public policy decisions on the issues are made on Kauai. The group consists of nine Kauai residents who represent the entire spectrum of the GMO/pesticide debate. For the first time, seed company representatives — two of them — are at the table for this critical conversation.
The JFFG’s mandate poses one fundamental question: “Are there detectable and measurable human or environmental health impacts on Kauai associated with pesticide use in genetically modified crop production?” The group is conducting a full review of credible scientific literature, sifting the real science out from the propaganda.
As the JFFG has worked quietly, it has become even clearer that enactment of Ordinance 960 put the cart before the horse. The ordinance was introduced as an alleged solution to a problem that was neither really defined nor comprehensively documented, arousing bitter island divisions.
If the County Council process had worked effectively, the JFFG’s dispassionate inquiry would have occurred before any legislation was introduced. That way, the critical 44 basic questions the group is now grappling with might have been largely answered and pointed the way toward a realistic agenda, and one that would not have invited being struck down by a federal court.
The JFFG’s draft report will be made public before it is finally adopted. Look for developments sometime before Dec. 31. And of course, await the inevitable sound and fury of those who have already made up their minds on the issue and will foment a furious, anonymous backlash.
Allan Parachini is a former journalist and PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.