There’s been something I’ve been wanting to write about on this blog for a long time but I kept putting it off because at the same time I don’t want to write about it. I’m afraid to write about it.  I’m afraid that writing about it will cause me to lose friends and gain enemies. I’m afraid it will cause me to be judged, criticized and targeted in a cruel manner. I’m afraid it will hurt me and hurt others.

I’ve talked to friends about wanting to write about it on my blog. Some think it’s a good idea, some think it’s a bad idea, some aren’t so sure. I was unsure about it myself so I decided to focus on other topics, all the while having it in my mind that I would write about the topic I was afraid to write about ‘eventually’. The other day on Instagram I saw a post that said Writing Prompt of the Week: Write about the thing you’re most scared to write about. Underneath it said “Facing our fear brings out visceral energy. The work that scares us is often the most powerful, with important things to say. ” It was then that I decided that it was time to write about this topic I was afraid to write about, time to address the elephant in the room.

The situation is an elephant in the room because it has caused me a lot of distress and many people who read my blog are aware of it.  It was the catalyst for me starting this blog and I’ve made many vague references to it on here but I’ve never spoken about it directly or told the full story of what happened. People often tell me I’m brave for sharing my story on my blog. No story I’ve told on my blog has required more bravery on my part than the one I’m about to tell now.

A little over a year ago I was banned from an internet forum that I had been a member of for twelve years. The first thing people want to know is why I was banned. You’d think the answer to that question would be simple but I actually have a hard time explaining it. I have a hard time explaining everything that went on at that forum, especially to people who aren’t familiar with internet forums.

For years I never felt the need to explain that forum to anyone because I kept it a secret from everyone in my real life. It was my own secret world, a world of drama that I was intensely wrapped up in. If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know that for years I was very socially isolated and depressed. That forum became my main social outlet and it was pretty much my only source of socialization with people who weren’t related to me or paid to talk to me.

People often come together and socialize as a result of shared interests.  Some people are interested in sports, some are interested in art and some are interested in stamp collecting. Then there are those who have more unusual interests, such as baby names. Yes, baby names are a great interest of mine and no, I don’t plan on ever having a baby.  One might think that being interested in baby names when you’re not having a baby is so bizarre that it would be impossible to find a group based on such an interest so imagine my delight when I found an internet forum devoted to just that. Furthermore that forum had a special focus on snarking on bad baby names such as Apple, Sir and Nevaeh, which is the special focus of my own interest in baby names. Many other topics besides baby names were discussed at this forum though. These topics included politics, news stories, entertainment, food, parenting and personal issues.

For the first few years that I was a member of that board I didn’t have much of a presence there. I didn’t have any friends there and I didn’t have any enemies either.  The last few years I was there I had a huge presence.  I made a few friends and many enemies.

I didn’t post much for the first few years I was there because I was engaged in real world activities such as school, volunteering and hanging out with friends. With the onset of mental breakdowns followed by intense depression, anxiety and shame, those real world activities decreased and my posting on the board increased. Then I was noticed and targeted.

The main complaints about me were that I posted too much and that I posted the wrong things in the wrong way. When, a few months after I was banned, I finally started talking to my therapist, Kate, about what I went through on that board she asked me why I didn’t just post less and avoid posting things I knew would be controversial.

The truth was I often wasn’t sure what was going to be controversial and things I never would have thought would be controversial ended up causing a shit storm of epic proportions. Despite what some members of the board suggested, I don’t think this was because I was socially inept, stupid or playing dumb. The truth is that while there are certain topics that will inevitably result in flame wars (abortion and circumcision for example) sometimes you will be blindsided by the seemingly innocuous topics or statements that rile people up on the internet. One of the most heated arguments I ever saw on that board occurred in a thread about napkins.

I wasn’t personally involved in that napkin feud but I unwittingly caused many other feuds. Once someone posted a fact that appeared to be incorrect and I said “What’s your source for that?” without thinking twice about it. I was told that my question was shockingly rude and snarky.  I replied that it wasn’t meant to be snarky, it was just meant to be a direct question. A woman named Marcia (pay attention to Marcia because she’ll play an important role in this story later) said that she didn’t believe it was an innocent question, she knew I was deliberately being rude. She wouldn’t tolerate such behavior from a 10-year-old child and there was no reason anyone should tolerate such behavior from me.

When people would complain about aspects of my posting style, I would do my best to alter my posting and fix the things that were bothering them but then they’d just find something new to complain about.  Often they’d complain about me doing the very thing I’d been told to do.

When I posted about news stories people would complain that I was just summarizing the news story and not opening a discussion about it. I was told to offer talking points for the issues I presented.  When I opened the topics with discussion questions people complained that the questions were too formulaic and made them feel like they were answering essay questions for English class. People would complain that I posted about things in threads that weren’t closely related enough to the original topic of the thread or that I posted after too long a time had passed since the last post in the thread. They told me to post separate threads instead. When I did that they complained that I was posting too many threads. When I would post about light, silly topics people would complain that the topics weren’t important enough to discuss. When I would post about serious topics people would complain that they were too upsetting, disturbing or controversial  to discuss.

When I posted about a certain issue regarding a former U.S. president without giving my opinion on the matter, I was accused of depending on the board to form my opinions for me. The disagreement that ensued resulted in me being suspended from the board. When I expressed an opinion regarding another former president that went against the majority opinion of the board I was accused of holding a contrary opinion just for the sake of arguing. The disagreement that ensued resulted in me being banned from the board.

As for why I didn’t just post less when people complained that I was posting too much, I told Kate that it was because I enjoyed posting and discussing the things I did on that board and other people enjoyed it too.

“Were there people who responded positively to your posting?” Kate asked.  Yes, a lot of people responded positively to it.  There were people who told me they really appreciated all the interesting conversations I started and the perspectives I gave. For years that forum had been experiencing  a decline in membership, activity and participation, as have internet forums in general ( I imagine that the popularity of social  media has something to do with it.)  People would say that I contributed greatly to the board, that I kept it going, that I brought life to it, that it would be dead without me. There were also people who complained that I was destroying the board, that I was responsible for the decline in activity and membership, that the board would be a better place without me.

When debating whether or not to post certain things on this blog I tend to give higher priority to the people who will appreciate it vs. the people who will not appreciate it and greater consideration to the ways in which it will help me vs. the way in which it will harm me. After all, the people who don’t like what I write don’t have to read it.

I had a similar philosophy regarding that forum.  It had an ignore button that you could use to prevent yourself from seeing the posts of certain members. Unlike on Facebook, the block feature did not work both ways and you could unblock specific posts in order to read them at any time. The complainers claimed that they couldn’t put me on ignore because I posted so much that putting me on ignore would make the entire board disappear and the conversation wouldn’t flow properly.  Plus they’d still have to suffer the trauma of reading what I wrote in quotes from other people and unblocking my posts to read them would defeat the point of ignoring me. They also complained that I was “monopolizing”the board which didn’t make much sense to me since it wasn’t like there was a limit to the total number of posts that could be made on that board and the more posts I made, the less posts others were able to make.

As I said before, at the time I was leading a very lonely and isolated life. I was also leading a life that lacked purpose and direction. In real life I I was often shamed for doing nothing with my life, for accomplishing nothing, for contributing nothing to the world. When I would post on that board and people would respond positively to what I posted, when I’d get a long, interesting conversation going, not only was that my way of socializing but it felt like a way of accomplishing something and making a small contribution to the world.

When people responded negatively to what I posted and attacked me for it, that was always very hurtful to me but in a way it also helped me because whenever a bunch of people attacked me, a bunch of people also defended me and reached out to me privately. They would tell me they were sorry I was being treated so badly, they would type words of support and encouragement. Sometimes from there conversations and relationships would develop. It was through making enemies on that board that I made friends on that board.

One of the people who reached out to me was a young woman named Bernadette. She empathized with me because she was also a board target who was often attacked by other members. For a while I believed the nasty things other members said about her and sometimes I even participated in attacks on her. Yet once I started talking to her I realized that the other board members were wrong about her and that I had unfairly allowed their opinion of her to influence my own opinion of her. I realized that she’s actually a really nice, smart, honest, funny person. Although I’ve never met her in real life, today I consider her to be one of my best friends.

I probably would have been more open to changing the way I posted if people had addressed their issues with me privately and in a civil manner but they chose to publicly humiliate me in a cruel and nasty way. That did not make me want to change in order to please those people, especially once I got the impression that no matter what I did, there was no pleasing them. I wasn’t too inclined to be considerate of the feelings of people who had no respect for my feelings.  I just felt angry at those people. I suppose those people were angry at me too but I don’t feel all that bad about the distress I caused them by posting more than they wanted me to and in the incorrect format. Somehow I don’t think my posting frequency or style was anywhere near as emotionally distressing or hurtful to them as the things they said to and about me were to me.

Over the years I was told that I was annoying, irritating, rude, obnoxious, immature, childish, selfish, bitchy, creepy, inconsiderate, discourteous, arrogant, condescending, divisive, provocative, deliberately obtuse, off putting, hostile, weird, abnormal, unhealthy, obsessive, attention seeking, etc, etc, I was called a troll, an imbecile, a pedophile, an unrepentant antagonist, a sad sack and a spoiled, ungrateful brat. I was referred to as “Miss I have autism” “A danger to the community” and “Just bird noises in the bathroom.” I was told to get a life and a job and that I needed serious help at best. It was suggested that I had experienced a major decline in my mental abilities, that I had plagiarized the things I posted on the board and that I should blow my brains out. I was accused of using autism and depression as excuses for bad behavior. I was accused of lying about various things such as my identity, my sex, my life experiences, my family relationships and my dog’s death. All of that took a major toll on my self esteem and my self esteem was crap to begin with.

When I or anyone else complained about the way I was treated we were told I deserved to be treated that way because I was so annoying. I won’t claim that I was never annoying on that board because sometimes I was and I won’t claim that I never behaved badly on that board because sometimes I did. However, I will say that I did not deserve to be treated in the manner that I was. I also know that I was not targeted just because I was annoying. There are a lot of annoying people on that board who are not targeted. I became an easy target because I was so vulnerable.

Even though I don’t think I deserved to be treated in the manner that I was, I blame myself for it. I had the power to walk away from that board at any time and yet I chose to remain there for years until I was forced out.

To be continued….

 

6 thoughts on “When online is out of line: The Elephant in the Drawing Room

  1. It’s really a shame that some people feel that it’s ok to treat people badly online. They would never treat people like that in person…or let’s hope not! Don’t let their bad behavior make you feel less than who you know you are! Been there, done that! It’s rough, I know. Perhaps you should start your own forum or a group on Facebook! I would be very interested in what you have to say! 😉 Looking forward to reading the rest of this story as well. Be kind to yourself dear.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Everything you described is precisely the reason why the only internet “socializing” I do is right here on WordPress. Typewritten communication has no tone, no defined emotion. Therefore, jokes are often taken literally and personally, statements of fact are often taken as intentional contrariness and countless other nuances of face-to-face human communication get lost in the translation. I would guess that you didn’t do anything “wrong”, but those who had a knee-jerk reaction to your words are probably over-sensitive and hence are actually looking for things at which they can be offended. But at least here, the people I end up getting to know are other writers who usually have similar outlooks as me about most things. We find each other’s pages via a suggestion in the reader, a key word search, or another blogger’s recommendation. So there’s usually a bond right from the start. But I know for a fact that if my page and the things I write on it were more universally known and read, I’d have more hateful comments on any given post than I could possibly imagine. But I don’t. And I hope you don’t, either, because you’re a great, honest, open and interesting writer and I’m very glad to have found your blog.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Just wow. I’m so sorry that happened to you!! I’d like to give those people a (proverbial) whop upside the head. Seriously, it sounds like the mods were high on some kind of power trip. Can’t post on this or that, can’t say this or that, can’t do it this or that way? No wonder they were going through a membership decline! It sounds like they need a serious character reorganization within. And an embracing reality check. It’s such a shame that these people treated you like they did and it sounds like you were instrumentally important to the group, and it sounds like your contribution was beneficial to many. I know rejection hurts (my gosh does it ever!), but I think that ultimately, being away from this group might actually be for the best. The exit was mandated by the wrong people and for the wrong reasons, but maybe it’s a silver lining? I don’t want to speak out of turn and I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to tell you how to feel or how to process this (I’m totally not ❤️). I’m so glad you wrote about this! It takes a lot of courage to speak out about something like this, and you did it *so* beautifully. I’m extra-grateful to know you and your fantastic blog! 💗💪🏼💞💐💓

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much and no, you’re not speaking out of turn. Just wait until you read what I have to say about being banned from the board in later blogs. I have a lot more to say about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can only imagine 💐💐. I’m looking forward to reading it – not the painful source of it that fuels the need to write about it, but I enjoy your synopses of your experiences 💞. I’ll watch for it! 💚💙

        Like

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