When Online is Out of Line: The Scarlet Letter

Whenever someone was banned from that forum I was a part of, the moderators posted an image of a troll being struck by a bolt of lightning and the word ‘banned’ appeared under their user name. They would also be added to a thread titled ‘banninated’ which served as a kind of banning hall of fame. It included a list of the people who were banned, a description of the reason they were banned and a link to the thread in which they were banned. The rest of the thread was devoted to mercilessly mocking the banned members and speculating about their lives. This of course, was in addition to the mocking and speculation that occurred in the original thread in which they were banned as well as the mocking and speculation that occurred in various other threads at random times.

If the banned member was active in the Facebook group associated with the forum they would be removed from that group upon their banning. Many current and previous members of the forum would unfriend or block the banned member on Facebook upon hearing of their banning.

Before I was banned I would sometimes participate in the roasting of banned members. It gave me a sense of camaraderie and a feeling that I was a part of the community. Once I was the one who was banned, knowing that I was being torn apart by the community and that I had become a persona non grata felt awful.

It was as though I had been branded with a scarlet letter but instead of wearing an A for adultery I was wearing a B for banned. I was an object of scorn and a punchline of jokes. In being represented as a troll I had been dehumanized and rendered as ugly on the outside as I felt on the inside.

Perhaps being rejected from that community would have been easier if I’d had another community to turn to but I didn’t. Of course there are a lot of other internet forums out there and I did consider joining a few of them but ultimately decided not to. Who’s to say I wouldn’t be just as hated at those places and treated just as badly, maybe even more so?  The truth was that as horrible as that bad baby names message board could be, as far as message boards went, it was not one of the more horrible ones. In fact, I think it was one of the nicer ones.

The prospect of reaching out to people from my past was in the back of my mind but it was a scary prospect indeed. What if I was just as annoying, rude and immature as all those people on the forum said I was? What if all those negative things those people said about me were true?  Why would anyone want to be friends with someone like that? People had been friends with me in the past and had applied positive descriptors to me such as funny, intelligent and empathetic but that was then. I had changed over the years. Maybe I had, as one forum member suggested, experienced a decline in my mental abilities. Maybe I had become, well, the kind of person who got banned from message boards.

There were people from the forum who even now, liked me but maybe those people were wrong about me and everyone else was right about me. After all, my best friend from there had been banned herself.

I drew comfort from my forum friends who told me that being banned was not a reflection of my worth and that those horrible things those people had said about me were a reflection on them, not on me. Yet my ties with those comforting friends seemed tenuous. I feared they would ditch me like Karen and Weasel had. Then I would literally be friendless.

Fear and loneliness continued to eat away at me until one day I decided to start making friend requests and sending messages to friends from my past. I knew I was taking a risk but decided it was a risk worth taking and I would just have to hope it turned out better than when Bernadette and I had decided exposing Marcia’s lies was a risk worth taking.