When Online is Out of Line: The Best Worst Thing That Possibly Could Have Happened

I was very pleasantly surprised by the general response I got from the friends from my past I reached out to. They told me how happy they were to hear from me and they bore me no grudge for my years of silence. When we talked it was as though those years of silence had never happened. We picked up where we’d left off and I felt as comfortable with them as I had years ago. One friend told me that getting in touch with me had made her day, summer and year. The feeling was mutual.

I ended up talking to some of my old friends on the phone and getting together with some of them in person. When I’d been deprived of genuine, face to face friendship for so long, having it again produced feelings of giddiness and euphoria akin to first love. I began to wonder why I had wasted so much time on that forum with people who did not like me, did not appreciate me and did not have my best interests at heart when there were people out there who loved me, appreciated me and wanted nothing but the best for me.

I realized that the way I was viewed by that forum in general is not the way I’m viewed by people in general or the world in general. Many people view me as funny, witty, intelligent and empathetic.

I realized that as powerless as I had felt on that forum, I now had a choice in whether or not I continued to let the people there have power over me. They could not make me feel inferior without my consent and it was time for me to revoke the consent I’d given them. I could refuse to wear that scarlet B they pinned on me.

I knew I was continuing to be mocked, snarked on and torn apart en masse but so what if those people didn’t like me? I don’t like them either. So what if they think I have major character flaws and behaved inappropriately? They have some major character flaws themselves and engaged in some wildly inappropriate behavior themselves.

It was hard for me to shake the notion that since I’d been banned from the forum and those people hadn’t, they were right and I was wrong but I just need to look to the larger world to know that authority figures don’t always make the right decision and justice is not always served.

I can’t even say the moderators made the wrong decision in banning me though. There’s a lot I could say to the moderators about that but this is what I’d like to say to them most of all: Thank You.

Thank you for getting me away from those toxic people and that toxic environment. Thank you for giving me the impetus to seek out better people and better environments. I know a lot of people claimed that forum would be better off without me. I’m not sure if that’s true but I do know I’m so much better off without that forum.

 

When Online is Out of Line: Second Thoughts

I did not end up re-registering for that forum when I went to Rhode Island or any time after that. In the end my heart just wasn’t in it and it just didn’t seem like a good thing to do.

I reasoned that if I satisfied my curiosity by reading what those people had said about me and then gave them a piece of my mind I would be banned again. After I was banned those people would inevitably say more stuff about me. Would I then have to register for the forum a third time to satisfy my curiosity about the additional things that were said about me? Would I have to respond to those things that were said about me and thus get banned a third time? Would I then have to register for the forum a fourth time to satisfy my curiosity about the things that were said in the aftermath of my third banning? Did I really want to get caught in an endless loop of insatiable curiosity and forum bannings?

Plus I knew that seeing me return to the forum, have an emotional outburst and then get banned again would be satisfying to some of my cyber enemies and I did not want to give them that satisfaction.

Of course I could just register for that forum, read what was said about me and not reply to it. I could continue to read that whole forum and remain undetected for years to come. But would being a passive observer in a community where I was once an active participant ultimately be a satisfying way to spend my time? What would spending all day observing from the sidelines a community that rejected me do to my already precarious mental health? It may have done me less harm than all the time I spent interacting with a community that constantly attacked me but was this really a path I wanted to continue on?

Furthermore, I knew that even if I read every word that was said about me on the forum I was banned from, people were also talking smack about me on the spinoff forum reserved only for the popular members of the original forum and I would never gain access to that. I was sure that people also talked smack about me elsewhere on the internet and in private conversations. I would never know the details of any of that. What I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.

When Online is Out of Line: I’ll Be Back

I heard through the grapevine that it had been announced on the forum that Bernadette had been banned for stalking Marcia. People were creeped out and horrified that we had searched the internet for information about Marcia and her family even though they had done the same thing to me less than two weeks ago. Their hypocrisy infuriated me.

While being banned is meant to prevent you from ever coming back to the forum, getting back on to a forum you’ve been banned from is pretty easy to do. To read the public area of a forum you’ve been banned from all you have to do is clear your cookies. If you want to post on the forum and gain access to the members only section you have to register for another account without being recognized for who you are but that’s not too difficult to do either.  If you’re not banned by or recognizable by your IP address it’s as simple as registering under a different email.  If IP address is an issue then you just have to register with a different email from a different location or use an IP blocker.

Old habits die hard and after I cleared my cookies I was going back to the public section of the board on a regular basis. That section of the board was devoted solely to discussing names but even there members were writing nasty, insulting comments about me. One member re-started a thread that I had started previously, saying she wanted a thread that was Kira-free. Another member said she thought Magnolia would make a good middle name for a kid but was hesitant to suggest it because it had been my user name. She went on to say that she was really, really fucked off that I hadn’t changed my user name before the ban hammer hit because Magnolia was a lovely name but I had turned it in to something that should not be used. Then there was the member who referred to me as a psycho stalker with the posting speed of a spambot

Many if, not most, of the members who have been banned from the forum I was a part of have come back under a different account. Sometimes they’re upfront about who they are and tell everyone off but usually they come back under a fake identity and make themselves a part of the community again by pretending to be someone they’re not (then there are those who are banned for originally creating a fake identity and come back as themselves.)  Other members eventually discover that they’re a previously banned member, at which point they are banned again. Sometimes they continue to come back with more fake identities. There are also banned members who create new accounts so they can lurk on the forum without posting.

Registering for that forum again to post under a fake identity was never remotely appealing to me but coming back to tell people off was and so was registering to go back and read everything that had been said about me after I was banned.

I had more anger over the whole situation than I knew what to do with. As a release I wrote “letters” to the board that I deleted soon afterwards. I had this fantasy that if I “sent”those letters everyone on the forum would agree that I was right, that they would recognize their hypocrisy, that they would apologize for how badly and unfairly I had been treated but I knew it was just that: a fantasy. “Sending” that letter would just make me look worse in the eyes of the assholes and hypocrites. They would respond to it by further attacking and insulting me.

When I told my forum friend Trixie that I was considering going back to the forum to give everyone a piece of my mind she said she didn’t think it would be worth my time. She also said nothing good would come out of reading the thread in which I was banned.

“I want to go back and read the thread where I was banned” I said to Bernadette

“Why? You know it would just be really stupid.”

“My curiosity would be satisfied”

“Satisfied in a good way?”

Well, no, my curiosity would not be satisfied in a good way but unfortunately I had the kind of curiosity that didn’t discriminate between good and bad. I wanted to know all the lurid details of everything even if I knew they would upset me. If people were talking about me I felt I had the right to know what they were saying.

Towards the end of the summer in which I was banned I went on vacation to Rhode Island. I brought with me the new computer I had gotten for my birthday. This seemed like a good opportunity to register for the forum again with a low risk of being recognized. I set up a new email account for that purpose.  I would get back on to that forum, I would learn everything that had been said about me there and maybe I would give it a piece of my mind.

 

When Online is Out of Line: Your Time Here on This Board is Done

Under the line in the message informing me I had been banned was a line that said When ban will expire: Never. Under that line was a line that said reason for banning: E-mail sent to Kira*****@****.com.

A swift punch to the gut.

I opened my email. It read:

Hi Kira,

I think the posts in that George Bush thread were a long time coming. I think your time here on this board is done. At this point you have burned through all the good will people may have had. Once that happens the relationship just deteriorates completely.  I feel for you because I know you struggle but we don’t think this place is going to help you. We see the same patterns over and over again. It is destroying this community. It is time for you to move on. We will be closing your account. We wish you all the best in your life.

-NinjaMod6

At least that message from the moderator was more empathetic than the one I got when I was suspended.

“I’ve been banned” I said to Karen.

“Wow, really? The moderators haven’t said a thing on the board.”

A few minutes later the moderators announced my banning on the board. Their announcement read:

“The other moderators and I have agreed to ban Kira. Ultimately she didn’t have a healthy relationship with this board and that didn’t seem to be changing. We got more reported posts about her behavior than everyone else on this board combined. We think this is for the best for everyone involved.”

If it was true that they got more reports about my behavior than everyone else on the board combined and not just an exaggeration for effect it could have been because my behavior was exceptionally heinous but it also could have been because a bunch of petty and immature tattletales decided to complain to the mderators about my every move in an effort to get me banned.

“What are people saying now?” I asked Karen.

“They’re saying how surprised they are. Most people thought you would get a warning or a suspension.”

I wasn’t really surprised that I got banned but I was still devastated.  A place that had been an important part of my life for twelve years,a place that I had devoted so much of myself to, a place that was my main and often my only source of entertainment, socialization, conversation and friendship had just been taken away from me and I was never going to get it back.

Although I had been deeply hurt by all the ways in which people on that board had attacked,insulted and ostracized me over the years, I had never shed any actual tears over it. The night I was banned I cried myself to sleep.

When Online is Out of Line: The Beginning of the End

You never know what straw is going to break the camel’s back. The incident that ultimately led to my downfall on the board started out innocently enough but at that point nothing I did was considered innocent.

Someone posted a video of George W. Bush dancing at a funeral and many members expressed the belief that he was drunk. I said I did not believe he was drunk. We debated back and forth whether or not he was drunk for a while until a member called Vegas (all names mentioned from here on out are pseudonyms for the names or screen names of board members. Some have been mentioned previously in this saga. Others are being introduced for the first time) said “Yet another thread derailed by Kira nonsense. If you want to believe it’s impossible for a former alcoholic to start drinking again, you are free to believe that and we are free to disagree. I don’t know why you have to insist that you are right and we are wrong. Just let it go. Jeez.”

Hedwig then piped up to agree with Vegas and say “I have a feeling that if the majority had said George Bush wasn’t drunk Kira would have said he was. Gotta have whatever contrary opinion allows you to have every other post in the thread!”

Apparently I was exceptionally unlucky on that board when it came to discussing former presidents and I just couldn’t win. As you may recall, the incident that resulted in me being suspended started when I posted about an issue involving Woodrow Wilson without giving my own opinion on the matter and was subsequently accused of being unable to think for myself and relying on the board to do my thinking for me. Now when I clearly was thinking for myself and expressing an opinion that the board hadn’t formed for me I was accused of doing so solely for the sake of being contrary.

I was frustrated so I said “Oh yeah, another thread derailed by me because I’m a horrible person who’s responsible for all the problems on this forum and no one shares any blame for the way they choose to interact with me.”

Hedwig retorted with “That sounds about right. I know you’re being sarcastic but it’s pretty much true.”

Trixie jumped to my defense with “Hedwig, those comments were unnecessarily cruel. It’s understandable that someone on the autism spectrum would see neurological differences as accounting for strange behavior before they would see drunkenness. If someone made a comment like that to my daughter I would be so heartbroken for her.”

Hedwig snapped back that the fact that she would be heartbroken for her daughter did not mean anyone on the board should have to walk on eggshells around me or take my autism in to account because autism was no excuse.

Suki said “Ouch. Some of the comments made to Kira just seem unnecessarily mean. If I was told that I was always responsible for things going wrong and always ruining everyone’s fun I would just be so hurt. There are people in my life that I find annoying but I don’t treat them like this. There must be better ways to deal with someone who wants to be a part of every conversation.”

Then CatWoman said “I agree with Hedwig and I don’t care if that’s cruel . Kira, you monopolize the board, you argue for the sake of arguing, you take offense at things that aren’t offensive and you post in every thread. Why can’t you stop this behavior? I don’t understand.”

At that point I let loose and wrote a long post detailing all my thoughts, feelings and frustrations. I pointed out that I was not breaking any board rules and that there were people who appreciated my contributions to the forum. I pointed out that me posting on the board was not preventing anyone else from posting whatever they wanted and that if anyone didn’t want to read what I posted they didn’t have to. I talked about my struggles with my disability.  I said I knew there were people who were hoping to drive me off the board by going out of their way to make me feel unwelcome, by constantly poking at me until I snapped and lost it completely but I wasn’t going to let that happen. I acknowledged that my participation in the forum was not entirely healthy but that it also helped me psychologically in some ways and without it my mental health might be worse.

I guess I was hoping that by laying it all out there like that I would get people to finally understand and acknowledge where I was coming from but that’s not what happened. I was made fun of for writing an ‘epic length post’.

Lola said that my long post proved that I enjoyed being dogpiled. She told me I was addicted to the board and showed all the symptoms of an addict. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t want to stop.

Firecracker told me that a hyperdefensive wall of text in response to complaints about monopolizing the board was shocking, that people kept trying to nudge me in the direction of appropriate social behavior but I wouldn’t listen and that every other forum she’d been a part would have tossed me out a long time ago.

Candy told me that I should observe the behavior of other people and conform to it-it was unusual for anyone to post as much as I did or to post when they were on vacation like I did.

Starbuck said that it wasn’t normal for a message board to be affecting one’s mental health and that I should see a psychologist (isn’t it just so helpful to tell someone who struggles with severe mental illness to see a therapist? As if that’s a brilliant suggestion they never would have thought of on their own and they haven’t already been in therapy for a long time.)

Clarissa felt that in saying I thought my mental health might worsen if I didn’t have the board in my life I was being deliberately emotionally manipulative.

Rudey Bozo said “Just because something is not against the rules doesn’t mean it’s okay to to do it. It’s called being courteous to other members. You don’t rule this board. This is not a Kiracracy. You’re just being selfish and immature.”

I have to admit that she did kind of have a point there and that the “this is not a Kiracracy”line was pretty clever but considering she was always hurling nasty insults including telling me to get a life and a job and calling another member an arrogant bitch, I don’t think she had much room to be lecturing me on courtesy to other members. Not to mention that the moderators often responded to complaints by pointing out that the offending behavior did not violate any rules.

Speaking of moderators, a moderator popped in to say that the moderators had been informed of the current situation and were monitoring it. She also told me she’d noticed the amount of posts I was making ramping up lately and was monitoring that as well.

Reagan said that no one was saying they wanted me banned but I was very annoying.

Lola replied “I want Kira banned. That way she can find whatever she’s looking for somewhere else and won’t come back and do the same thing in a few weeks or a few months. People were calling for her to be banned after the Woodrow Wilson thread and now she’s lost even more ground. The board will be fine without her. This is not the place for her.”

 

When Online is Out of Line : “Evidence”

The attempt to out Marcia for her lies went about as well as I expected it to go-meaning it went terribly. Although most of the board made it quite clear that they were curious about who the faker was and what the evidence that proved her lies was, they also took the opportunity to call Bernadette a troll, a shit stirrer and an attention whore for bringing it up.

Some said they didn’t care if anyone lied about their name or relatives, that people are entitled to privacy and that no one should be forced to reveal every single detail of their lives.

On that board there was no reason anyone would need to make up a fake name or a fake sibling for themselves in order to maintain privacy.  There were plenty of people who just never gave out their names and were referred to by their screen names.  There were plenty of people who never mentioned their siblings or who were only children.

If anyone wants to maintain that those kinds of lies don’t matter and that digging up information on someone like that is creepy or unethical that’s a perfectly valid viewpoint but practice what you preach and don’t throw stones from glass houses.

A moderator sent Bernadette a message chiding her for starting a shit stirring thread and asked to see the evidence she’d gathered. Bernadette forwarded the evidence and pointed out that the board rules said if you suspected someone of faking you could start a thread about it.

The mod replied that if you were going to start a thread accusing someone of faking you needed to name them directly, rather than drop hints and ask questions. Yeah, there’s no way calling Marcia out directly right off the bat would have gone over well either. She would have been criticized for making premature accusations and revealing personal details and would have been told that if she was going to start a thread she should have been more vague about it.

The next day a mod sent a follow up reply saying they’d decided the evidence was weak and did not prove any faking. They pointed out that if she’d just sent the evidence to them they could have told her that and that would have been the end of it but since instead she decided to start a shit stirring thread,  she would be suspended from the board for six months.

“I’m sorry I encouraged you to do this” I said to Bernadette after she showed me the message.

“It’s okay. We talked about the potential consequences. We knew this and worse could happen.”

“I feel like I should have known it would turn out like this.”

“This is disappointing but not surprising. I couldn’t have continued to post on the board and not said anything.”

“So, I guess you can come back in October.”

“I don’t think I will come back. This has left a bad taste in my mouth for the board.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“We can still talk off the board.”

In the thread a moderator posted a message similar to the one she had sent to Bernadette. She wrote that the mods had reviewed Bernadette’s “evidence” and hadn’t found any of it to be compelling. We had to laugh at their use of the term “evidence” because that was the term we used for the proof they supposedly had of Bernadette sending me screenshots. We knew the “evidence” of Marcia’s lies had to be more compelling than that “evidence.” Yet we also knew that whether or not moderators found evidence compelling depended at least partially on how they personally felt about the accuser vs. the accused and the popularity levels that the accusers vs. the accused enjoyed on the board.

The discussion in the thread soon moved on to jokes about faking, expressions of glee that Bernadette was gone and mocking her for things such as her love of The Backstreet Boys and Bernie Sanders.

At one point someone called Garamond said that they’d noticed that when I’d been suspended for two weeks Bernadette had stopped posting for two weeks and they wondered if that was meant as a gesture of solidarity. Garamond stated that if that was the case it showed a surprising level of emotional investment. In the past I’d been told I had an unhealthy level of emotional investment in the board for not wanting to take a break from it for a few weeks. Once certain people on that forum decided they didn’t like you, you were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t.

A board member called Sparky replied to Garamond by saying that she also had noticed that Bernadette had done that and that it would be interesting to see if I also disappeared for six months. Clearly these people felt entitled to talk about me as if I wasn’t there when I was there and clearly that was part of their (perhaps subconscious) plan to continue to make me feel alienated.

Perhaps I should have taken the opportunity then and there to disappear for 6 months (and then another 6 months after that, and another 6 months after that).  It may have spared me some of the humiliation and heartache I endured about 3 months later.

 

When Online is out of Line: Worth the Risk

Even though the rules of the board clearly stated that if you suspected someone of lying on the board you were free to call them out on it, we knew that it would be risky for Bernadette to do so regarding Marcia. Even though those who did online detective work to expose the lies of other members were usually hailed as clever heroes and those who were exposed were usually condemned as lying fools, we knew that in this case there was a good chance Bernadette would be condemned as a creepy stalker and Marcia would be seen as a victim.

Like me, Bernadette was a board target/outcast. Like me she was kind of weird and socially awkward. Like me she had a tendency to say and do things that were perceived by others as annoying, rude or offensive. Like me, she was often accused of  lying, trolling and shit stirring. I’d actually chided her for comments that I found rude or offensive myself and at one point I did believe she was a liar and a troll but once I started talking to her one on one I’d realized that wasn’t the case.

Then of course Marcia enjoyed a position of power, privilege and immunity on that board so any transgressions of hers were likely to be dismissed.

Bernadette decided to contact the site administrator Lorna about the evidence of Marcia’s lying rather than the Ninjas because her interactions with the Ninjas had been less than positive and they seemed rather biased.

Despite the fact that Lorna was the site administrator she actually wasn’t very involved with the forum. She didn’t post there very often, she often failed to address issues with the forum and she’d talked about selling the board to someone else. As frustrating as her lack of involvement with the forum she ran could be, it also meant she was less likely to be biased.

When Bernadette sent the evidence of Marcia’s lies to Lorna, Lorna replied that the evidence was impressive. She said she would talk to Marcia about her lies and get back to Bernadette with what she decided to do about it. Months passed and Lorna never got back to her. Marcia continued to lie and evidence of additional lies was discovered.

Was it creepy of us to dig up that evidence on Marcia like that and attempt to expose her lies like that? Perhaps. Do I feel particularly bad about it? No. Not after the way she treated me and the way she accused me of lying. Not when people on that board dug up information on Bernadette from the internet and presented it to the board, trying to catch her in a lie. Not when people from the board were Googling me, trying to catch me in a lie (more about that in later blogs)

It was ultimately a waste of our time and energy to get so wrapped up in exposing Marcia’s lies but being so wrapped up in the board in general was a waste of our time and energy. In all honesty I Google information about people I know or want to know more about all the time but I prefer to think of myself  as an unpaid private detective rather than a creep. I tend to assume most of the people who are horrified by that kind of thing are hypocrites because they do it too.

Anyway, we grew impatient and frustrated. Bernadette considered “outing” Marcia on the board but we couldn’t think of a good way to do it and we weren’t sure if it should be done.

“You keep going back and forth about this, Kira”  Bernadette said.

“Well, I’m conflicted. I want Marcia to get in trouble but I don’t want you to get in trouble”

“I feel the same way.”

Eventually Bernadette decided she was going to go ahead and do it. She didn’t want to contact the ninjas about it so she decided she would start a thread about it. Naming Marcia as the faker and revealing the evidence right off the bat didn’t seem like a great idea so she decided she would say there was evidence that a member was lying about things such as her name and the existence of certain family members and ask if people were interested in learning more. That didn’t seem like a great idea either but it was the best we could come up with.

“Is potentially getting in trouble over someone you hate really worth it?” I asked Bernadette

“Actually, Kira, I hate her considerably less than you do. I’m doing it in the interest of fairness”

“You know you’re going to get accused of trolling”

“I’ll say “Yep, I’m trolling for a good cause.”

“You might get banned.”

“That’s okay. It’s just a silly website I spend too much time on. I survived for years before I joined it and I’ll survive afterwards”.

“Just make sure you’ve thought through all the consequences.”

“I have. It’s definitely worth the risk.”

“Good luck.”

When Online is out of Line: No innocent victim

Although the moderators of that forum had never really come down on my side or spoken out against the people who attacked me, this time some of the people who attacked me were so far out of line, I held out hope that the mods would defend me and admonish my attackers.

Instead I got a message from them asking me to take a break from the board for two weeks and assuring me that it wasn’t meant as a punishment. It felt like a punishment to me and I didn’t appreciate that I was the one that was supposed to remove myself and not my attackers. Since I was so wrapped up in that forum and it was my main form of socialization, being away from it for two weeks was not appealing to me.

I replied by asking if I was really being given an option or if I was going to be forced to take a break. I said that it didn’t seem fair that I was being asked to leave when other people were bullying me, that they would just see that they could make me leave by antagonizing me.

This was the reply I got:

“Well, we’d prefer that you take a break on your own but since you don’t want to, we’re closing your account for two weeks starting tonight. We don’t like it but we’ve run out of other options. None of this is fair or unfair. It just is.

No one is making you go away. You are being sent away to get some perspective. Maybe you can think of ways to spend your time that don’t involve this board. Maybe you can follow the advice you’ve been given and post threads that are more personally meaningful to you.

No one is bullying you. They don’t like you and they’re no longer being polite about it. There’s a difference. We’ll deal with those people but you’re no innocent victim in all of this. We’d ask that you stop flying off the handle every time you think someone is being rude to you. It only escalates the situation and you’ve been wrong about the other person’s intention more often than not. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt and we’ll request that others do the same for you.”

I felt rather gaslit by that response and I found parts of it to be ridiculous. I don’t think I’d been wrong about the other person’s intention more often than not. The only instance I could recall in which I supposedly misread someone’s intention was when Marcia said something I perceived as a slight against me and she claimed she didn’t mean it like that. Considering Marcia’s history of attacking me, I think I can be forgiven for perceiving it that way.  Making passive aggressive statements to insult someone else and then claiming they’re misinterpreting you when they get upset about it is an emotional manipulation technique as is telling someone that their perceptions of reality are usually wrong.

Another way to gaslight someone is to tell them they’re always over reacting to things they have legitimate reasons to be upset about. Yes, I had certainly gotten defensive on that forum but I saw that as a natural reaction to being attacked, not as ‘flying off the handle’ in reaction to imagined slights. I didn’t just think people were being rude to me, I knew they were being rude to me. Sometimes it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt but sometimes there’s no benefit of the doubt to give. When Marcia called me a troll was I supposed to assume she was complimenting me on my brightly colored hair?

These people were ‘no longer being polite’ to me but they weren’t being rude to me?  Considering all the awful things that had been said to me on that forum, I was surprised at how hurt I was by the statement ‘They don’t like you.’ It’s human nature to want to be liked. Logically I know not everyone’s going to like me but I don’t like being disliked by a large group of people.

That subforum in which I was being reprimanded for posting threads that weren’t personally meaningful to me?  It was called Outside and Impersonal. The thread in which I was reprimanded? It was about something that was happening in the town right next to the town in which I lived.

The moderators, however, were absolutely right that I needed to get some perspective and find ways of spending time that didn’t involve the forum. Unfortunately perspective and better ways of spending my time were not things that would come to me easily.  Nor would they come to me quickly.

Reading and participating in that thread had been traumatic for me.  Every cruel insult, negative comment and nasty criticism was like a prick to my skin and left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach.  The notice that I had been suspended for two weeks left me feeling like I had been punched in the face. That night I went to a movie but I didn’t comprehend it much at all because I was so upset and my mind was so preoccupied.  Unfortunately my trauma was just beginning.

The next morning I contacted Bernadette.

“Hey, how are you?” I asked.

“I’m okay. I’m pissed that you were forced to take a break from the forum but no one who antagonized you was.”

“What’s going on on the board?”

“The mods started a thread with your name on it.”

 

 

 

 

When online is out of line: The Elephant in the Drawing Room

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….