When Online is out of Line: The Morning After

For years the first thing I had done when I got up in the morning was check that internet forum. When I got up the morning after I was banned I felt the reflexive urge to do just that. When I remembered that I couldn’t and thought about what had happened, a sinking, empty, dreadful feeling spread throughout my my body.

Although I could no longer log in to the board since I was banned word gets around the internet so I heard about some of things that were being said about me there.

Whitney said: “I won’t be weeping into my pillow over this decision, god knows, but I do think the way we got here was….not great. The woman had been a member here, for good or ill, for a very long time, and the tone of some of the posts directed at her today made me really uncomfortable. Yes, she was annoying. Yes, she insisted she wasn’t going to change. Yes. And yet, I would have thought we as a community were better than some of the insults flung at her. I don’t know. I understand that tempers were frayed and patience has just all run out for her. But I’m a little disappointed at some of the things that were said. Maybe it doesn’t matter now, the situation is over, but that’s what I think.”

Frenchie said “I’ll cop to being someone who had to take a commenting break from the board for about six months because I thought I was being a total butthead to Kira but I wasn’t reeling it in. I was always at a ten with her no matter what we were discussing. I couldn’t figure out how to deal with someone who took everything I said so literally, and then didn’t seem to internalize any of it at the same time. And I was way ruder than I should have been. On the other hand, she was driving me up a wall, so this will definitely prompt a lot of uncomfortable navel-gazing on my part. ”

I appreciated both of those posts very much because even though I was called annoying it was acknowledged that no matter how annoying I was it was not okay for people on that forum to have treated me as badly as they did.

Sushi said: “Wow, I missed the party… but then I have things to do, like prep a house for my in-laws, who are descending upon us next week.

I’m another one who has been here since 2004 (and before that, under a forgotten login) and look at my pathetic post count… But Kira? 28,000+ posts. Not. healthy.

I’d been seeing her posts ramp up again rather badly recently, and I sighed aloud to myself: she’s slipping again. This time, she was in threads she really had no reason to be in, like Pregnancy Updates… which I thought was weird. It’s one thing to peruse them and lurk, but to post when you aren’t part of the convo at all was just a bit bizarre. So I started avoiding her threads/posts other than the Minor Celebs thread. I just couldn’t take it.

I don’t like banning long time posters but this was absolutely justifiable. She’s divisive, provocative, rude, has these annoying blinders on, and acted like she ran the board. I started to find it insulting that every time she was called out on her excessive posting and rudeness, she’d drag the old autism/mental health chestnut out again. I think this latest go-round became really untenable, even more than the previous attempts to curb her impulses, and I saw that she continued to chase away other posters, this time including myself. It’s that relentless thing in her that just grates and drives everyone nuts.

Thank you, ninjys. I truly hope she finds counseling that will help her behaviors.

I hope this opens a new chapter where folks can be comfortable posting again.”

That post I did not appreciate so much. Since Sushi thought the number of posts I had in relation to the amount of time I had been on the board was so unhealthy I have to wonder how she felt about those people who had been members for a shorter time period and had more posts than me. I also have to wonder how she felt about those other people who posted in threads that they “had no reason to be in.”

She found it insulting that I would bring up the old autism/ mental health chestnut?  Well I found it insulting that she would refer to disorders I’ve struggled with all my life and have suffered a lot from as an old chestnut.

I have gotten counseling to help myself but my counseling has never focused on behaving in ways that will please the assholes of the internet because there is no pleasing the assholes of the internet. The assholes of the internet might benefit from counseling themselves.

The events leading up to my banning certainly hadn’t felt like a party to me and now that I had been banned my mood was rather funereal.  My grief was compounded by a couple of feelings I couldn’t shake: 1. It was my own fault I’d been banned and I’d gotten what I deserved  2. Being banned from an internet forum really was not a big deal and it was ridiculous for me to be this upset about it.

I reasoned that if I had posted less or argued less with the people who criticized me I wouldn’t have been banned so how could I complain or grieve over a situation I had brought upon myself?

I knew that people could grieve and feel a sense of loss over situations that did not involve death but extending that concept to being banned from an internet forum seemed a bit much. It was just an internet forum after all. It wasn’t like it was “real life” and it wasn’t like being banned from it was the end of the world.

Yet the truth was that that forum had been a very real part of my life and that when I was banned from it a part of my world did come to an end.

Grief is among the most painful emotions humans can experience. Another painful emotional experience is social rejection. I had just been kicked out of a social group that was very important to me and was really my only social group outside of my family.

Of course alongside my feelings of grief and rejection were feelings of anger. I was angry that I had been banned, angry at what those people had said to me, angry about the hypocrisy, the unfairness and the cruelty. Sometimes the anger was so intense it felt like a boiling hot rage welling within me and the only thing that could fill the overall emptiness I was now feeling inside.

Bernadette tried to comfort me:

“I’m sorry people have been so rude to you, Kira. I know it always hurts a little when the dogpiling starts, even though we’ve all seen it before. Being banned will feel weird for a little while – for a few days it’ll keep popping into your head. You might even think of checking the board over the next few weeks, forgetting that you’re banned for a moment. Then when you remember, you’ll feel bad about how it all happened. Soon enough, though, you’ll stop thinking about the board except for occasionally, and you’ll feel more neutral than negative.

You’ll laugh when Karen posts something ridiculous from the board and be glad you don’t have to deal with it. You’ll be amazed when you think about how much idiocy and cruelty you’ve put up with for years. You will find other ways to occupy your time, online or off. For example, I chat with people on Facebook more now, and I’ve read a couple of books for pleasure, a habit I had unfortunately lost in college. I also found some really fun strategy and sim-type games that I play sometimes. If you want to read about names, go to sites like Baby Name Wizard or blogs like British Baby Names. If you want discussion of news and various topics, try Quora, or look for subject-specific boards.

Again, you will be totally fine. Soon, you’ll wonder why you ever stuck around that forum when people there treated you so horribly for such a long time. Yes, many people there are intelligent, some are funny, and a few are kind, but many are also arrogant intellectual snobs who enjoy bashing others for sport. Just look how much we complain about them!

You don’t need people like that in your life. They’re not even worth a “bye, shitters” post. When I was first suspended, I considered returning after the six months to share my true thoughts and get banned once and for all, but why bother? I don’t want to waste my time. It would be like complaining on Facebook about people who were mean in high school. It’s over now, and everyone should move on.”

Even as I recognized the wisdom in her words, I still felt awful and I was still reeling from being banned.

 

When Online is out of Line: Bird Noises in the Bathroom

As I read the latest thread that had turned in to me being attacked en masse, there was that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. My heart was racing. I felt like I was in the middle of a hungry wolf pack, being attacked on all sides.

The attacks and the insults just kept coming. People who had previously defended me attacked me. People who I had assumed liked me or were at least neutral towards me attacked me. People who had been away from the board for a long time came to the thread to tell me I was the reason they left and to attack me.

Yo-ya said “I tried to come back to the board a while ago but it was the same old Kira show. Autism is no excuse for your behavior. My 9-year-old stepson is autistic and has some behaviors that are annoying as shit like making bird noises in the bathroom but unlike you he stops when we tell him to. People who just want to enjoy themselves shouldn’t have to deal with you. You’re just birds noises in the bathroom.”

Jill said she was all for people being honest and blunt but telling me I was just bird noises in the bathroom was extremely mean spirited. Yo-yo replied that she didn’t see how it was any meaner than what anyone else said.

I was especially hurt at being told I was just bird noises in the bathroom but there were plenty of other mean comments:

“You’re a troll. Go be annoying somewhere else on the internet.”

“You’re ruining this board. Get a blog or something.

“You are literally addicted to this board. Get out of here. You should probably get off the internet entirely but baby steps…”

“Your standard of behavior is really shitty and it has zip to do with autism. You expect people to pat you on the head and walk on eggshells around you and when they don’t you lash out.  There’s no hope of you controlling yourself at this point.”

“Kira doesn’t give a shit about anyone else.  She uses mental illness as an excuse.”

“I can’t stand Kira.”

“We’re not your puppets or your therapists.”

“You are using the board in what is universally agreed upon to be an unhealthy manner.”

“Everyone is bothered by you.”

“You’re either going to get banned or this board is going to become a sad, empty place.”

“I’m ready to pack up and leave this board right now.”

“This is not the place for you. You need to go.”

“We have never distinguished between deliberate and unintentional trolling here.  If you troll you get banned.”

“If you get banned it’s your own fault.”

Despite or perhaps because of the emotional distress that thread was causing me, I could not tear myself away from it. I felt compelled to keep reading it, keep responding to it, keep trying to defend myself. Fear and panic were descending on me. Being banned now seemed like a very real possibility.

“I think I’m going to get banned” I said to my forum friend Karen.

“The ninjas said they’re monitoring the situation”

“But popular members are saying they want me banned so that will probably convince the ninjas to ban me.”

“It hasn’t convinced them before.”

I was keenly aware of how vulnerable I was. I knew that I could be banned at any moment and that I was powerless to stop it. My feeble attempts to defend myself left me feeling small and pathetic. The way I was once again being ganged up on and insulted, the way my words, my behavior and my life were once again being picked apart left me feeling utterly humiliated.

In addition to the people insulting me, there were people expressing concern for me.

“Kira, I know how important this board is to you and if a group that was important to me wanted me kicked out I would be devastated but it’s what needs to happen. I was hoping you would get over your obsession with this board but you haven’t. I don’t want you to be unhappy. You’re a smart girl. You’ve been to college. You can go back to college.”

“You’re a young woman. Your life shouldn’t be so boring that all you do is sit on the internet all day. Go out and do something. Volunteer, join a group, find a hobby. Don’t die without anyone knowing or caring. There’s a serious danger of that happening.”

Kevin, one of the few men on the board, said:

“I’m not sure how true this ‘Kira is a recluse who has nothing in her life but this forum to occupy her’ narrative is.  Even if it is true I’m not entirely comfortable with what is undoubtedly an attempt to get Kira to leave the board being framed as an altruistic urge to help a troubled young person. It feels a little disingenuous.

That being said, it is undeniable that Kira has an extremely unhealthy relationship with this community and this community has an extremely unhealthy relationship with Kira. Kira, honestly at this point I don’t understand what you’re getting out of this relationship. I don’t know what the solution is though. I worry that if we run Kira off she will go somewhere where people will be far, far nastier than we could ever be.

I’m exhausted of these conversations and I cannot begin to imagine how they are making Kira feel. I’m tired of thinking and worrying about all of this. I’m upset that this is happening to a community I care about.”

I think that was the post that summed the whole situation up best of all.

The back and forth continued. Soon the thread was over ten pages long and for the second time the moderators created a thread devoted to bashing me, with my name as the title.

Dolly said I’d made no effort to change my behavior on the board and it was just the most annoying thing.

I pointed out that I had taken other people’s criticism of my posting in to account and adjusted accordingly. For instance, I now included my opinions about every news story I posted.

Sprinkles retorted that I had been asked to post less but I was still starting a lot of threads and asked if I honestly didn’t see the what the problem was.

I wrote some reply about how I didn’t see the problem with it because you didn’t have to read what I posted if you didn’t want to and you were free to start your own threads but no one ever saw that reply because when I went to post it a message popped up on my screen. It said ‘You have been banned.’

 

 

 

 

 

When Online is Out of Line: An Interesting Discovery

Soon enough my two-week enforced break period was up and I returned to the forum. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t returned. It would have saved me further drama, trauma and heartache. But hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

In fact, during my break Bernadette asked me if I thought I would ever leave the board. I replied “I think I might get banned eventually or the board might shut down” so clearly at that point I could not contemplate leaving.

I though of some things to say to the moderators and to the people who attacked me about the things they had said and done in my absence but in the end I did not say a word to them about it. I realized it wouldn’t do any good because they obviously knew how much they had hurt me and they obviously did not care. By responding angrily I would be giving those people exactly what they wanted. Instead I focused on thanking the people who had said things about me that were helpful or supportive.

As you may recall, the character I call Marcia was the one who said the nastiest things of all about me. Naturally this made her the subject of a lot of the conversation between Bernadette and I and naturally it made us curious about her. Bernadette asked me if I’d ever looked her up on social media. When I replied that I hadn’t she looked her up herself and shared what she found with me.

We had fun snarking on Marcia’s pictures and creating lolMarcia memes. I know it’s not very nice to make fun of anyone’s physical appearance because they can’t help the way they look but Marcia can help the way she treats people so I was pleased to discover that she’s as ugly on the outside as she is on the inside. And her fashion choices certainly don’t help matters.

Then Bernadette snooped on Marcia some more and discovered something interesting. Remember how Marcia accused me of lying about my identity? Well, it turns out she was being dishonest about her own identity.  Internet sleuthing revealed that her first name wasn’t Marcia as she claimed, her middle name wasn’t Ruth as she claimed and her last name wasn’t Jackson as she claimed.

If it seems weird that one would reveal one’s full name on an internet message board and weird that we would care that she was lying about her name, remember that this was a board about names. Marcia talked constantly about how she hated it when people spelled her name Marsha, pronounced it Mar-see-uh and made Marcia Brady references. She talked about how radical she was for keeping her maiden name of Jackson when she got married back in the 70’s. It turned out she’d actually taken her husband’s name of Green when she got married.

She also talked about how much she hated her sister’s middle name, Veruka.  It turns out Veruka is her own middle name and that the sister she calls Airlie appears not to exist. I suppose it’s possible that she just didn’t include her sister on her online family tree (that gave the option of listing a relative but making their name and information private) for whatever reason but despite the ninja’s previous advice, I’m not too inclined to give Marcia the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Let me make it clear that I have no issue with anyone using pseudonyms for the sake of privacy. In fact I’m using pseudonyms for everyone on this blog (I’m even using pseudonyms for pseudonyms-Marcia is not the name the asshole known as Marcia claimed to have) except Airlie, because there’s something very Freudian and funny about having a sister named Airlie who’s a lie you pulled out of the air.

What I do have a problem with is someone having the nerve to claim to have no tolerance for lying of any kind and to accuse others of lying about their identity with no evidence to back it up, when they are lying about their own identity. I wasn’t the only one she took to task for supposedly lying. She once chewed someone out for lying by referring to her friend’s son as her nephew. Funny, considering there’s a good chance her own nieces don’t exist at all. She said she did not think it was okay to lie about names on the forum. Funny, considering she had been lying about names on the forum for years.

The forum in general had a low tolerance for lying. It was made clear that you could choose not to reveal your name or your location but that if you lied about your name, location or pretty much anything else, you would be banned. Many people were banned for lying-sometimes for things like names, dates and locations, other times for things like fake children, fake deaths and fake stories. My personal favorite was the woman who was banned for pretending her dog was a human child.

Members of the board would go to great lengths to root out lies of other members through internet detective work and would take great delight in outing them for their dishonesty on the board. The person who lied would then be banned and the person who exposed them would be hailed as a hero.

The board rules stated that if you suspected someone of lying you could either contact a moderator about it or start a thread to out them.

“So, what are you going to do with the information you found about Marcia?” I asked Bernadette.

When Online is out of line: Girl needs to get a life. Hell, a job

Why did I stay for so long on an internet forum that treated me so badly? It came down to attachment, addiction, stubbornness and fear. Over the years I’d gotten attached to the board and to the people on it, even to the people I didn’t like.  There were probably other places on the internet and places in real life that would have been a better fit for me but I’d grown to know and love this forum.  I’ve never done well with change or goodbyes and I’ve always been slow to warm up to new places and new people.

In my previous blog post about this I explained my philosophy behind the actions I took on that board but when I was in the moment, I was acting not so much on reason but out of compulsion and force of habit. I felt compelled to look for names and news stories to post on that board. When I had a question or wanted advice I felt compelled to ask the board about it.  I felt compelled to share my experiences with the board, to participate in almost all of the conversations that went on there and to read almost everything that was posted there, even if I wasn’t particularly interested in it.

There’s something addictive about that forum, about internet forums in general and about the internet in general. The concept of internet addiction is controversial. It’s not in the DSM and it was first introduced as a joke but these days many people take it seriously.

Addiction is usually thought of in terms of chemical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Addiction to the internet is both similar to and different from addiction to drugs. While there’s no chemical dependency on the internet and you’re not going to die of an internet overdose, being on the internet can activate reward centers in your brain like drugs do and internet addiction has negative effects on your health and your life like drug addiction does.

People with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are more prone to internet addiction. I have both depression and anxiety and I’m particularly affected by social anxiety. When interacting with people in real life seems scary and overwhelming, it can be tempting to try to fulfill your social needs by interacting with people online instead. I turned to that forum for socialization and friendship. The problem was that only a handful of the people on that forum were actually my friends and many of them were my enemies. When real life is hard and miserable, the internet can become a form of escapism.  You’ll know from my previous blogs that I went through some really hard times in my life over the past decade.

Some professionals object to characterizing internet addiction as its own disorder because they think its better classified as a symptom of other disorders. I’m reminded of the old “Which came first-the chicken or the egg?” debate.  Does internet addiction cause depression, anxiety and social isolation or is it caused by depression, anxiety and social isolation? I’d say both are true and that it becomes a vicious circle. The internet is a double edged sword and that forum was a double edged sword for me. It both helped me and harmed me.

There are some internet addiction tests available online. Some of the questions ask whether your internet use is interfering with your love life, your social life and your career. In my case there was no love life, social life or career to interfere with.  I had a huge hole in my life and I turned to that forum to fill it. The need to fill some kind of hole in one’s life is often what’s at the heart of any kind of addiction.

Many people on that forum felt that my use of it was problematic and pointed that out but most of them did not do it in a kind or compassionate way. They did it in a cruel and humiliating way.  Their intent was not to help me but to shame me.  Some people do subscribe to the misguided notion that by shaming someone for their problem you will motivate them to make positive changes in their life but that’s not how shame works.  Shame destroys the mechanism in a person that makes them capable of change. It makes you feel hopeless, helpless and worthless. I had plenty of shame in my offline life and combined with the shame I was subjected to online I felt as though I was trapped under a shame avalanche.

One time a woman who went by the screen name of Rudey Bozo (names and screen names in this blog series have been altered to protect the innocent and make fun of the guilty) went on a vicious profanity laden, typo filled rant against me that she ended with “Girl needs to get a life. Hell, a job.” In one of my favorite internet comebacks of all time, a fellow board member, Bernadette, replied “How nice of you to share those opinions. In my opinion you need to get some empathy, manners and a spellchecker.” It was at that moment that my friendship with Bernie really took off.

I had tried to get a job but I had been unable to find one and that left me feeling like a worthless failure so Rudey’s comment was especially hurtful. While Bernie and a few other members said that was a really shitty thing to say, there were also members who said it wasn’t that bad and didn’t qualify as a personal attack because she hadn’t called me a bitch.

Then there were members who acted as though they were concerned about me but I sensed that their supposed concern for me was not genuine. In the same thread in which I was attacked by Rudey Bozo, a member called Maleficent said that she’d been tracking my time online on the board for two days the previous week ( that board had a “Who’s Online?” feature). She’d noticed that I’d been online all day for both days and so much time online was not good for my mental health.  Since Maleficent had a habit of attacking me (and others on the board) with cruel insults that certainly were not good for my mental health, I did not believe she really cared about my mental health. She was just trying to embarrass me. Of course in order to have noticed that I was online all that time she would have had to have spent as much time online as I did but she excused it by saying those were two days when she’d been too sick to get out of bed and she certainly didn’t spend that much time online on a regular basis since she had a job.

I knew that the people who were were being jerks to me wanted me to leave the board. Since they were jerks to me I disliked them and since I disliked them I didn’t want to give them what they wanted. I once told a friend on the board that any reasonable person in my shoes would have left the board a long time ago. Yet I stubbornly refused to leave. If I left that would mean the jerks had won and I couldn’t let them win.

There were a few people who seemed genuinely concerned for me and expressed their concern for me in a kind, compassionate manner. Some even offered suggestions for improving my life such as volunteering to tutor English and offered me helpful links. I appreciated the suggestions and I recognized the wisdom in what they were saying but while kind, supportive friends can propel a person towards positive change, they alone cannot make the person change. Change has to come from within the person themselves and at that point I was too scared and too lacking in confidence.

I’ve never been a very confident person but after the mental breakdown I’ve chronicled in other blog posts, my confidence took a major nosedive. My confidence was lowered even furthered by the  barrage of cruel, insulting comments I was constantly subjected to from my stepfather and from that forum. I would complain on that forum about the way my stepfather treated me and would be told that he was a real asshole. The irony is that the comments he would make to me were similar to the kind of comments that were made to me on that forum and had the same kind of effect on me.

My stepfather also subscribed to the misguided notion that by shaming me for my problems he would motivate me to fix them (I may be giving some of these people too much of a benefit of the doubt. They may have never had any intention of helping me. They may have just been trying to hurt me.)  He would tell me that I was a lazy parasite who contributed nothing to the world and therefore I did not deserve to be treated nicely or to have a say in my life. He would constantly tell me how I was annoying I was.  Annoying was also an adjective often ascribed to me on that forum but my stepfather considered me to be annoying for different reasons than the people on that board did.

As most of you reading this blog know by now, I’m on the autism spectrum and have tics/sterotyped movements. My stepfather was always bothered by this and always got angry when he saw me engaging in them. He told me that it was annoying and unnerving to watch, that it was not normal. If I had to do it, I was only allowed to do it in my room where he didn’t have to see it. He’s not the only person who”s been bothered by my tics/stereotyped movements and he’s not the only one who’s made nasty or awkward comments about it. It’s made me self conscious. As annoyed as people got by me online and as many nasty comments as they made about me, at least online they could not see my tics and thus they could not be annoyed by or make nasty comments about them.

In real life I’ve never been popular socially. There have always been a few people in real life who disliked and said mean things to or about me. However, in real life, I did get the impression that once people got to know me, I was generally well liked. Before my involvement on that forum I had never been targeted or ostracized by such a large group of people. Before it had seemed that liking me and thinking highly of me or at least being neutral towards me were the norm. Disliking me or thinking poorly of me were the exception. After I was targeted on that board, it seemed that disliking me and thinking poorly of me was the norm, liking me and thinking highly of me the exception.

Outwardly I always defended myself against the people who attacked me because I felt they were being unfair and that they had some serious problems themselves but inwardly I suspected they were right about me. While I shared many details of my life on that board, I did not share every detail. Most of the details of my mental illness that I’ve shared on this blog, I did not share on that forum. The things I said and did when I was in the worst throes of my mental illness filled me with intense shame. I’d think to myself “If these people think this poorly of me based on what they know about me, imagine what they’d think if they found out the things they don’t know.”

My friends on that board would validate me and tell me that the people who targeted me were full of shit but remember that my best friend on that forum, Bernadette, was someone who was also targeted and ostracized so I figured that perhaps all those people were right about both of us.

In the end, it was my friends on that forum that made all the abuse I was subjected to on that forum seem worth it. They were the only friends I had. If I left the forum I was afraid I would lose them. The forum was where we had met and where we interacted with each other. It was our common bond and the center point of most of our private conversations. I did not know these people in real life and at the time I was not active on Facebook because I was too ashamed to show my face to the world.

The prospect of trying to branch out and make new friends or rekindle old friendships was too scary and intimidating. If the general forum opinion of me was correct, if I had become annoying and unlikable, than attempts to reach out would likely result in further rejection,humiliation and emotional pain. It wold be even worse than what I experienced on that board, especially if it happened in real life. As horrible as what I was enduring on that board was,  having no friends and no socialization seemed even more horrible.

A few month ago as I sat in Kate’s office with tears filling my eyes,  I said “Those people on that forum were so mean to me and they made me feel so awful. I could have left at any time but I didn’t because even though I had a lot of enemies there, it was also the only place where I had friends.”