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When the Twitter Mob came for a journalist and hockey mom

Witnessing road rage is not dissimilar to witnessing Twitter attacks - and just as unsettling.

This week I learned a new insult catchphrase: “Elite Projection.”

When I saw this slag lobbed on Twitter at a colleague, I hit Google. There was much scrolling required in my search — it’s not a mainstream term — but I found it.

Largely used by hardcore transit activists – and possibly coined by said group – it is defined on this blog by Jarrett Walker as “the belief, among relatively fortunate and influential people, that what those people find convenient or attractive is good for society as a whole.”

He goes on to explain that “once you learn to recognize this simple mistake, you see it everywhere. It is perhaps the single most comprehensive barrier to prosperous, just, and liberating cities.”

This started when RTDNA award-winning journalist, and outstanding human Janet Brown — a woman who has championed the downtrodden and vulnerable – was the target of this derogatory term.

If ever there was a misplaced slag, this was it.

Called out for her “elite projection” by a number of associated transit die-hards, Janet found herself defending the fact that she’d enrolled her child in sport and cited the lack of ice time in her city.

The wave of reaction was tsunami-like. Literally weeks after her initial tweet, the barrage of hostility continues to this day.

There were international profiles chiming in, and also a number of locals joining the pile-on – and not just anonymous accounts, but public figures.

What led to the shot across Janet’s bow was innocent: posting simply about her need for a car to take her kid to hockey at 4 am. Janet lives in Surrey; her kid’s hockey is in Cloverdale. The commute to practice is not insignificant by bus any time — but it’s important to note that no bus is available at this time of day.

Regardless, the storm of Twitter transit activist chaos that ensued was nothing short of alarming. Hundreds of tweets, many of them got downright nasty.

We need to find some Middle here.

Apparently in 2019, one can’t go on Twitter and have an opinion on the need for a car without weeks of Twitter attacks. Attacks not only get nobody’s point across, but dilute the message. Could the message have been a call for 24-hour transit to service all citizens? We could talk about shift workers who need to be at their jobs before transit service begins?

Some of Janet’s colleagues, including Lynda Steele and Charles Adler, jumped to her defence — and were then folded into the noise.

We side-barred about how one might hit block or mute to silence the slagging. They remain an option. Rather than live in silos on social media, many opt to keep lines of communications open, even with those who vehemently oppose your posts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have opinions shared, perspectives acknowledged, and when Middle cannot be found folks could move to agree to disagree — without it becoming personal?

Take the storm around Janet as exhibit A. If anyone had cared to ask, they would have discovered she commuted to work by Skytrain, downtown, for 20 years. That’s a three hour daily commute — which would easily be cut in half by car.

As I’m known to do, I naively chimed in with my own alleged “elite projection,” sharing that my personal adjustment to ever-rising gas prices was to divest our beloved gas-sucking Jeep, and invest in a lease on a hybrid that reduced monthly pump outlay from $300 to $50.

Oh boy.

Duck and cover — I was attacked for days. How dare I “assume” that “everybody” could afford a new car (I didn’t) and how selfish to put the Jeep into a pile of waste (I didn’t).

Here’s a bit of Middle: let’s shoehorn some space between “my way” and “the highway.” Perhaps create some room for a mile in her shoes and actually move conversations forward.

In 2019, everything has become so polarized, so tribal, that if you don’t surrender to the loudest, you must shrink your stance.

It’s not right.

Tossing around “elitist” and “privileged” – or any insult – without asking a single query about the subject is simply unacceptable. To click and see who Janet Brown was lumped in with is beyond ridiculous.

We need a base of respect in how we argue on Twitter.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.