Convictions, Courage, and the Internet
While browsing through my Facebook newsfeed this weekend, I came across a post that made my blood boil. We’ve all experienced this: a Facebook friend posts an inflammatory message that demands a response. Heart pounding, we pounce at the keyboard and hammer out an appropriately scathing—or archly informative—reply. Perhaps we hunt for an online article to prove our point, or perhaps we merely offer a withering scold. And then we hit return.
Or, we don’t.
I stopped hitting that key a few years back after realizing the blood pressure elevations prompted by arguments with strangers weren’t worth it. But I also doused my collection of firebrands because I’d started promoting my fiction through social media, and to be frank, I feared offending potential fans. While I occasionally post a link or “like” a page some might find controversial, I do so far less often than I did when my Facebook friends included only people with whom I’d worked or attended school.
Sometimes I wonder whether this is prudence or cowardice. You no longer have the courage of your convictions, I scold myself. Why aren’t you shaking your virtual fist for justice? Or even better—why aren’t you posting the courteously worded arguments expressing your well-reasoned, sensible views that you used to post?
Well, one reason is those darn blood pressure spikes. Another is that arguing with strangers, especially when one tries to back up the arguments with facts, takes time. I have better things to do than stand on my virtual soap box and yell with the rest of the crazies yelling from their virtual soap boxes. I have a daughter, a husband, and two cats who require care and attention. I have a fiction writing career. And oh yes, I have a living to make.
Then I see a post like the one I saw this weekend. Spoiler: I did not hit return. I did type three different responses into the thread, all of which expressed my deep disappointment in my Facebook friend, for what I felt was a despicable breach of trust. In this case, my friend posted not a political statement, but a private message received from someone else. My friend was angered by the message and sought sympathy from members of a private group to which we both belong.
The thread had about fifty comments when I saw it. I didn’t read through them to see if anyone had written the sort of scathing remarks I wanted to post. I had other things to do (a child to shepherd to lessons, errands to run), so I closed my browser and moved on with my day. But the post haunted me and started me thinking. If we didn’t have the Internet, if it wasn’t so easy to copy and paste text from one window to another, would this person share private letters without compunction? The only fitting pre-Internet analogy would be if a high school student took a private note written by another student and posted it on a bulletin board in the room where the chess club meets.
I don’t know the details of the dispute behind the PM exchange. Whether my friend’s anger is righteous or misplaced is beside the point. What made my blood boil was that this person exposed another’s private words for public ridicule. I typed three different messages along the theme of “shame on you” into the thread, but I did not hit return after any of them. I went on with my day, and I wondered, “what happened to the courage of your convictions?”
I’ll let you know when I find it.
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Reblogged this on AM Justice Journeys Through Time and commented:
This week on One Year in Letters, I ponder Internet behavior.
While I do believe we have a right to privacy, and it is among my personal rules never to speak of a private incident without the other party’s consent – I do NOT believe that doing so without permission is quite so heinous. Why on earth should it be? The fact that it was “private”? If you’re not willing to to face judgement for your remarks – DON’T MAKE THEM. Once you unleash words upon the world, they become the domain of others.
I saw a story earlier about someone who only had one leg and had asked their neighbour not to use their disabled parking space. In return the neighbour sent her a cruel letter mocking her for her disability and basically saying no one cares. Should she NOT have posted that letter online to garner support, because it was “private”? The right to HAVE privacy is something I support – but HAVING privacy does not give you the right to ABUSE it.
Now, sure, if you’re sharing personal secrets your former best friend told you in confidence, you’re being a jerk. But that doesn’t mean that anything not explicitly spoken into a megaphone is somehow sacred. Just because people act like jerkwards behind closed doors does not mean justice STOPS at the door. You have only the right to speak in privacy, not say whatever the hell you want and be protected from reprisal by some trite live and let live philosophy..
I don’t go around saying things that I cannot justify if they were brought to the light. And I’m not making some sort of cheap “If you have nothing to hide there’s nothing to worry about” argument. As I said, I consider it one of my personal rules not to do this kind of thing for this very reason. But that is a COURTESY – not a privilege. If you’re going to say or do something to someone else that makes you look like a bad person in the light of day – that’s something YOUR conscience has to deal with.
Someone isn’t doing something wrong JUST because they posted someone else’s private messages. That line is drawn in the sand by the CONTENT of what they post. If it’s personal stuff only brought up to shame on embarrass, that’s one thing. If it’s someone that proves said person is a racist or psychotic maniac, that is entirely another. Your outrage is misplaced, as you entirely miss the *relevant* distinction and react only to the format.
If what someone says in private is significant and deserving of being exposed, it damn sure should be exposed. Expecting otherwise is to vastly underestimate the power that words can have. Anyone who has ever been bullied can attest to that. Whispered voices are far from the most deserving of protection.