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: 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.”

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

This is my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. It’s about a woman named Mae who gets a job at a powerful internet company called The Circle that’s rather Google-esque and Facebook-esque. At first it seems like her dream job and everything is perfect. This is a company that really seems to care about the well being of its employees, that goes above and beyond to make sure they’re happy, healthy and having a good time.

There are all kinds of lavish parties and social events, special interest clubs, visits from celebrities, exquisite food, fancy decorations, comfortable dorm rooms in which employees can spend the night on campus and doctors to check up on the employees. The Circle even agrees to put Mae’s ailing father on her healthcare plan. Yet there’s also a dark side to The Circle and working there gets very stressful.

There’s a lot of pressure exerted on Mae to get perfect scores on her customer service reviews, to get lots of views, smiles and zings ( the equivalent of likes) and to rise in the company’s PartiRanks, which is based in her performance in those areas. Then there’s the pressure exerted on Mae to participate in The Circle’s social events, especially those that match up with her interests and experiences (her supervisors know all about her interests and experiences since they’ve searched through her social media profiles.)  In their efforts to connect people from all over the world together, to make information readily available to everyone and of course to grow their business, The Circle becomes very controlling and overbearing. They are invested in the lives of their employees not just in the workplace but outside the workplace as well and the boundary between the two soon becomes very thin.

Some of Mae’s family and friends resent the intrusion on their privacy and at first Mae does as well but after her supervisors admonish her for going kayaking without posting about it on the internet she quickly becomes brainwashed to the point that she agrees to go transparent, meaning she wears a recording device that broadcasts almost every second of her day in real time for the world to see. With the help of her supervisors she develops three central tenets to represent The Circle : Sharing is caring, secrets are lies and privacy is theft.

After that the novel becomes rather Orwellian. It is a novel that is both creepy and hilarious. What makes it so creepy is that as ridiculous as everything that happens in the novel is, it doesn’t seem all that far fetched. With the way things are headed in the real world, someday living in a society that resembles the one in this book doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.

I’m a big fan of the internet and an avid user of social media but I recognize its inherent creepiness and I’ve noticed the levels of creepiness steadily increasing as time goes on. It’s gotten more invasive, more in you face, more stalker-y. Things that used to be private are now public.

It always freaks me out when right after I’ve read or talked about something on the internet ads geared towards that subject start popping up everywhere. No matter how many times I tell the internet that I don’t want to give it my phone number so that it can secure my account or my location so that it can serve me better, it won’t stop asking me for it. I think the use of the like button and emjois has become rather excessive.

There were several instances in this book that reminded me of my own real life encounters with the internet. When one of the founders of The Circle introduced a kind of universal social media profile with one log in across all social media sites I was reminded of something I encountered on WordPress called Gravatar. I asked a friend of mine who had it how she got it and she said she had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently she had been signed up for it without her knowledge or consent because the internet is creepy like that.

In this book multiple tragedies occur as a result of the invasive cyber crazed dystopian society The Circle is creating but the leaders rationalize the tragedies and continue on in their quest to take over the world. Maybe Mae couldn’t have been expected to realize that her ex-boyfriend would be driven to suicide as a result of her having The Circle and the networks of people connected with them track him down and pursue him after he’d gone off the grid to escape their influence but I thought it was foolish of her not to realize he would be horribly distraught by it.

At the end of the book the mysterious man who has been pursuing Mae throughout the novel reveals himself to be one of The Circle’s founding fathers. He tells Mae that The Circle has gotten out of control, that it’s become different than what he planned, more than what he bargained for, that it’s a destructive force that must be stopped. At first I thought that Mae might listen to reason and prevent The Circle from reaching ‘completion’, that the book might have a happy ending. Being the morbid thing that I am, I was disappointed because I wanted it to have a “He loved Big Brother” type of ending.

Luckily for me, it did end up having that kind of ending.  It ended the way I originally predicted it would, in the best and most (in)appropriate way it could have ended.

When I went to review this book on Goodreads and post my review on Facebook I was asked to give the book a star number rating. Then I was asked to review a number of places I had visited recently, places that had been tracked through my Facebook activity. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happened in The Circle.