Cowardice and Bravado In the Internet Age


This is not a new phenomenon; there are articles and blog posts galore centered around people behaving in ways via electronic means that they probably wouldn’t in the flesh.  It runs the gamut from “sexting” to leaving snarky, hurtful comments on blogs to verbal brawls on message boards to creating false personas with which to troll the internet.  It’s a fact we can’t escape: it’s pretty damn easy to say just about anything from behind the cover of one’s electronic device.  It can be dangerous for kids and disturbing for adults.  Boundaries have been demolished, and sometimes the whole thing feels like a virtual free for all.

I’ve been party to plenty of this myself – message board and other mainly on-line relationships that fall apart very dramatically (I know we would never have said those things to each other face to face), offensive comments left on my blog (always anonymously).  When you decide to become involved in online relationships (especially group relationships) or open yourself up publicly with a blog, you kind of have to be prepared for occasional ugliness.  And while unpleasant comments left by “Anonymous” can be upsetting, you can at least write strangers off as whackadoodles.  But then there’s this other situation: when somebody leaves a comment on your blog and hides behind attempted anonymity, but you, the blogger, are pretty darn sure you know who this person is, and the person you think it is is someone in your “real life,” and you then feel kind of pissed off that this person wasn’t just straightforward with you.

So, yeah, that’s the sitch I currently find myself in.  Not that the comment in question was offensive, exactly.   Self-serving and defensive, yes, but hey, I don’t write these things to please the masses or insist that everyone agree with me.  I’m open to discussion!  But hiding behind a semi-anonymous identity . . . well, it just strikes me as kind of chickenshit.

Why does this even bother me?  Why is it festering?  Because the person I suspect the commenter to be is someone I encounter face to face occasionally, and now there is this weird tension, and it’s like we’re both pretending that he/she didn’t leave said comment and that I don’t suspect that it’s him/her.  Or, I could be completely wrong about the whole thing!  Which also makes it weird, because all I have is my suspicion.  Why don’t I just confront said person and say, “Hey!  Was that you?”  I don’t know why.  I’m not sure there’s a point to doing so – it’s not like our relationship is that deep or meaningful that it’s imperative the air be cleared on this.  And honestly, there’s a part of me that believes that if I did know for sure it was him/her, I’d be even more ticked off.  So I should just let it go I guess.  And maybe writing it all out here will help with that end.  And it also probably makes me look like someone who expends way too much energy worrying over silly crap.

Anyway.  Let’s all take a pledge, okay?  A pledge to not ever say anything electronically that we wouldn’t say in person, and to not hide behind anonymity to give us balls we don’t really have.

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6 Comments on “Cowardice and Bravado In the Internet Age”

  1. Stephanie
    February 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    I admit I’ve been tempted to leave anonymouse messages on blogs before (not yours!) but I decided I just couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I did. If something someone posts offends me to that point, I usually just walk away from the situation or take a few moments (or hours) to pull my thoughts together as not to lash out at the poster. I really try to keep my tone neutral when someone leaves a comment I find offensive or annoying. I don’t always succeed and people seem to gain courage when they sense they’ve pressed a button and in turn leave even more brazenly offensive comments. Yes, the whole thing just gets ridiculous and I’ve considered throwing in the towel more than once. I hate that drama online amongst people I’ve never met can affect my mood and disposition (usually negatively) in real lfe. But then again there are the positive experiences to balance that out.

    As for comments being left by people I do know in real life, those are few and far between since I’ve been more covert about my current blog. I can imagine there would be quite a bit of awkard tension in your current situation.

  2. Kristi
    February 24, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    If a person isn’t willing to say who they are…then they shouldn’t post a comment.

  3. Mumofone
    February 25, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    Could not agree with you more.
    In fact I have been bothered by this issue when reading one of your friend’s blogs recently – the amount of negativity and ?anger/hatred/animosity disturbs me. In fact I made a post on my own FB page about how the anonymity of blogs/comments etc bothers me.
    But then again – I am writing on your page under a pseudonym. Why?
    1/. I know you know who I am :)
    2/. I feel the need to protect my identity from the wider web – am not quite sure yet that I am comfortable with the low level of privacy the internet/web/cyberspace seems to create in our society.
    3/. While I use a pseudonym I refuse to leave a message on a blog or whatever that I would not say to someone’s face. I know I am my own ethical standard but that’s all I have!
    Finally – I’m really sorry about the situation you find yourself in. Sounds very complicated with no easy solution. When I think back to those old newspaper columns of Miss Manners etc which gave advice on how to handle tricky social situations in the ?1930′s or 1950′s or whenever it was – I wonder what those writers would say these days!!

  4. Heather
    February 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    I’ve tried to follow that pledge. I am braver (or bolder/ more direct) with some of my comments than perhaps I would be in an actual conversation but I try to only say something that I would be comfortable saying directly to that person.

  5. starrlife
    March 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Great conversation! I will not let anonymous comments on my blog. But I am comfortable with pseudonyms that have blogs attached to them. I use an avatar for confidentiality reasons and because I have seen up front how blog wars and nastiness ensues easily and can get veryyyyy destructive. Once I get to know someone than often I email them with my IRL name no problem. Bullying is bullying. I have zero problem with anyone who wants to disagree in their comments on my blog as long as they don’t attack me personally! Your pledge is totally reasonable. I guess someday, if I even put my blog out on a search engine and become famous :) than I will have to use my real name but until then, just call me Starr!

  6. Erica Paige Schumacher
    April 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    I think the whole culture has become obsessed with unhealthy imagistic impressions; empty pixels that leave real relationships, real friendships, and real experiential meaning pretty much in the dust. I thought your comments on this were thoughtful and true. People do not really have many real bonds with real beings anymore, just images. An image meets an image and calls that “life.” I mean, how authentic is it to have 1400 “Friends” on Facebook? Or to leave some snarky comment on a Social website or music page to humiliate or depress someone? I think it was much better for social relating and relating in general, and for the arts, and even for business, when there was a ‘private life’ that was real, and simply TV for entertainment. I mean, one could turn it off, ya know?

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