Hateful comments online can come back to bite you, expert says

Sticks and stones may break bones, but posts online can haunt you forever, according to a social media expert.

UNBC assistant professor Kafui Monu's research is focused on social media and business, which includes how human resources professionals use social media to screen potential hires.

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"I actually just read a recent paper looking at how human resources professionals are using social media," Monu said. "It is very easily searchable, to the point it can be highly automated. In the future... and when I say the future I mean a year from now, bots will be designed to search people's social media posts. No person has the time to search through everything, but a bot does."

A recent, and yet-to-be-published, research paper looking at social media use found that examining social media posts was just as good or better at predicting a person's personality traits and fit with a company's corporate culture as formal personality testing, Monu said. While social media posts are "curated" by the poster, they still represent a clear insight into that person's attitudes and behaviour, he said.

Locally, citizen stories on the Wet'suwet'en blockade of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the railway blockades in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, and the proposed renaming of Kelly Road Secondary School have prompted a flurry of offensive comments online.

One comment, made on a change.org petition, to keep the Kelly Road name, suggested Indigenous people should "get a job & pay taxes like the rest of us or starve & die," and should be run through a wood wood chipper if they don't want to work. That prompted one person to forward a screen shot of the comment to the poster's employer, The Citizen and the RCMP.

One comment characterized anyone opposed to the Kelly Road name change as "Nazis."

Others suggested the railway blockades could be solved with water cannons or running people over with trains.

Monu said any posts of a racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise bigoted nature could be red flags for a potential employer. In addition, he said, depending on company policies around social media, employers may be within their right to discipline or fire an employee for offensive comments online.

Comments that cross the line into hate speech, as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada, could face legal consequences as well, Monu added.

The Prince George RCMP did not return requests for comment on whether police are investigating any of those comments as possible hate crimes.

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