August 26, 2011 by Rhi
The other night I was on the phone to a friend, and the conversation turned to internet netiquette. He’d had a bad experience recently, on the back of all the riot-related statuses on Facebook, where he’d weighed in with an opinion and had regretted it afterwards when the “discussion” turned a little bit sour. You may or may not be aware that causing offence online is something of speciality of mine. I sometimes have issues in keeping my mouth shut. But the discussion, and the general pursuit of happiness, got me to thinking about how I behave now. And I realised how much I’ve changed in the last year or so.
When I think back to how I used to behave online, I’m a little ashamed. I mean, I never deliberately set out to hurt anyone. But (and I blame my schooldays for this), sometimes the need to be involved in a community led me to say things and do things that I look back on and cringe over. It’s in the past, and the person who did that is not who I am anymore. But I always think it does good, not to dwell on past miseries, but to revisit them occasionally as a pep talk. A way of saying “Look, that was then, this is now. You’re doing OK.”
I used to invest an awful lot of myself in my online persona. In fact, there was no difference. The very first online community I joined was where I met my first husband. I stayed with people I met there, they were my friends. At times, it felt like they were my ONLY friends. It was a lovely time in my life, and they were the most disparate, fun-loving, crazy group I’ve ever been lucky to call my mates.
BUT. And it’s a big but. Whilst these groups are fun at first, when you share too much of your REAL self with your online friends, it begins to become an issue. Or at least it did for me, at any rate. I couldn’t tell the difference between the names on screen, and the real people in my life who were actually my friends. And when you’ve invested so much in being a nice person, if it goes wrong, and if your words are taken in the wrong way, then you can be left feeling as though you are scum. It’s horrid, it’s depressing, it’s the worst feeling. It’s also completely pointless.
In my real life group of friends, we are all mates because we share that “something” that makes us different. This used to really bother me. Sooner or later, something I would do or say would annoy someone in a small way. No matter how hard I tried, there was always someone willing to have a pop. Sometimes over a small thing, sometimes over a big thing. Sometimes, I didn’t even know they were doing it. Sometimes it was all done in other places, with other people, when I wasn’t looking. That can really hurt people, if they aren’t expecting it.
Just like in school, groups thrive on gossip and being “in the know”. Being part of a group that knows something other people don’t gives a massive sense of power. I know, I’ve done it. And I’m not proud of it. I used to say awful things about people behind their back, on the mistaken assumption that if I were ever called on it, I’d say it to their face. That’s bollocks. When I am perfect, then I can criticise others with a clear conscience. And that’ll happen when hell freezes over. Of course, it doesn’t STOP me, but it does make me more aware of what I’m doing and exactly what it says about me as a person when I do it. Well, in my own eyes at least.
So where I am I now? Well, the internet to me, now, is an entertainment source. Something I go to when I’m bored, or when I want to get something off my chest. But it’s not my main source of contact for friends, and it’s certainly not a place where I’m willing to bear every facet of my soul and personality. I know I share A LOT, but there’s things I like to keep back. Things I don’t need to talk about to strangers. But more importantly, I’ve become less worried about the fall out. Because I know I’m only sharing what I want to share, if it’s not well received, then I’ve lost nothing. The world is a busy place, and there’s a lot of people in it. I’m never going to meet everyone, and even if I did, they don’t have to like me. Will I lose any of the lovely things in my life if other people don’t see me for who I am? Nope. Will my husband leave me, or my friends refuse to talk to me, if they hear that I’ve been bad tempered, or said or done the wrong thing on someone’s twitter feed? No.
A lot of my own unkindness to other people, back in the Dark Days, came from my own loathing of myself. I though that joining in and being unkind, or saying the right nasty thing about the right people, would make others like me more. In fact, all it did was seal my fate as the future recipient of the same myself. And you know what? I totally deserved it. But equally, I’ve realised that some people NEED that input. They get a whole load of good out of the internet and the friendship it offers. I’m not for one moment saying I’m better because I’ve moved on. I’m saying I’ve found what works to make me happy. It’s something that, time and again, has proved to not be so good for me. But one thing that still holds true, people don’t deserve to be made fun of or talked about behind their back. No matter what they’ve done, or how they’ve behaved. They may be doing these things because they want to be liked, or because they have other issues. It’s mob mentality, and it’s something that we learn from our very earliest days back in the school playground. I have a fabulous real-life firewall which protects me from whatever strangers online think of me, but other people haven’t. When I think about what I’ve said about people, and how horrid I’ve been, I feel sick. I apologise unreservedly to anyone I’ve ever offended. I didn’t intend it. I was being mean, and it’s not cool.
I don’t want to make people like me. I don’t want to lose part of me, by trying to make other people think I’m alright to know. I am who I am, I say and do things wrong. I’m not perfect. I get mad, I get crafty. I’m just me, and people love me for being me. So I’m not going to stop for anyone. Sorry.