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.

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.