Hear the Beard: As professional investigators, we can do better than trolling and ad hominem attacks.
by Hal Humphreys
There’s a thread of vitriol stitching its way through the public discourse. We’ve seen it in our personal and professional lives, and unfortunately, we’ve seen it on the social media feeds of Pursuit Magazine.
We here at Pursuit strive to post useful, interesting, and thoughtful stories that add to the conversation. We do not post stories to bait clicks, nor do we share articles to further any agenda—unless an open and honest discourse among professionals can be considered an agenda.
When we publish articles to Pursuit Magazine, written for us by professional investigators or writers, we fact-check them as best we can and reject articles that strike us as unsupportable. If a piece leans more toward opinion than fact, we label it “op-ed.” We also monitor comments, to maintain a sense of decency and decorum on our site—which means that if a commenter resorts to personal attacks or inflammatory remarks on our page, we reserve the right to remove that comment. You have the right to your opinion, but at our dinner table, you don’t get to shout down or curse out the other guests. Our magazine is a no-troll zone.
When we post stories to the Pursuit Magazine Facebook page or Twitter feed, we take a more hands-off approach to the comments threads and replies. Most of the stories we share on social media are from other sources, so we take no ownership of that content, nor do we endorse a particular angle. We simply post stories that we believe are relevant and interesting—serious articles on criminal justice and investigations, or profiles of spies and PIs. When we post a hard news piece or thought-provoking op-ed, we try to pull from legitimate journalistic sources that we know are subject to editorial scrutiny and fact-checking. Our goal is to share stories that make a strong case for some issue or practice, even if we don’t agree with it, because we believe it’s useful to read other perspectives. That’s what we should do as thinking human beings, not to mention professional investigators, to remain informed. We should always challenge our thinking, and be willing to admit it when someone we disagree with has made a valid point.
There are also times when we need a break from all this Heavy Thinking. So we might, on occasion, post silly memes, photos of adorable animals, or ridiculous features about insane crime sprees and PIs behaving badly. These are subject to less rigorous fact-checking, for obvious reasons. We do have an agenda when it comes to such posts: They amuse us. And this is our magazine, so we get to amuse ourselves on occasion.
If you are incensed by our choice to post a dog picture, or if you disagree with the premise or conclusions of an article from the Washington Post, New York Times, or USAToday, we respectfully ask that you make your case using well-reasoned arguments. It’s really the least we can do, as professional investigators—hold ourselves to a higher standard of debate. If your only argument is a pejorative attack on someone, you’ve not taken the time to develop your opinion, nor have you made the effort to further the conversation.
You also won’t have impressed anyone or changed any opinions. (See this WashPost piece on the science of influencing people’s views.)
In summary, if you find specific points with which you disagree in a story we post, take the time to develop your thoughts and craft a well-written rebuttal. Further the conversation. To do otherwise is beneath our profession.