Interacting Online: The Joys, The Struggles & Surviving Unharmed

Dear Audy,

The world has changed a lot in the past ten years, hasn’t it? The biggest influence that many of us feel in these early years of the 21st Century is that of the internet. The internet allows us to connect in ways that have never before been possible, it allows us to voice our opinions on a public platform and to connect with people in places that we might never have the opportunity to visit in the real world. Social media has come along and allowed us to reconnect with long lost friends and family, stay in touch with acquaintances who are, situationally, no longer a part of our lives and to even make new friends. I have been blogging and using social media for a few years and in that time I have made a lot of new friendships, some that have extended into the real world and others that have remained online, either becoming more intimate through private means of discussion, or sticking to public forums, only involved in the aspects of one another’s lives that each of us chooses to post online. For me, both kinds of relationships have been fruitful and emotionally rewarding at times.

There is also that other kind of online relationship. The internet is choc-a-bloc with forums filled with back and forth hate, anger, resentment and provocation. I am in my late 20s and was around when the internet was new and we were all afraid of serial killers finding us and so we posted in any sort of public forum under a pseudonym, now commonly referred to as a username (stupid simplifying language, pseudonym is an awesome word). MySpace wasn’t on the scene yet and most social networking was conducted through forums dedicated to specific topics (like a TV show, or gardening), and through the posts shared and discussed by blogging pioneers. As the years have passed, Facebook has brought social networking to those aged outside the 13-19yrs age bracket, networking sites have popped up to focus on just about any topic you can conceive, Twitter appeared and allows us to send our opinions our into the cyber-ether for whoever cares to follow them and these days, it is often considered odd not to have an online identity. The separation between self and cyber-self has become a smaller gap than existed back in the 1990s, when internet paranoia reigned supreme.

A lot has been written on the topic of online identity, a quick google surf revealed that the many of these articles are directed toward exposing how one’s online identity can effect their career prospects, as well as reporting the tragic results of cyber-bullying. This recent NY Times article offers advice on combating cyber-bullies, an article that focuses on the technical options available. Block/report/ignore/block/check privacy settings/report/ignore… These are all wonderful things to be able to technically do, but it’s not always that easy to stop the emotional effects of the unwanted attention in the first place, is it? Teenagers are the most prolific sufferers of cyber-bullying, although it does effect people of all ages. In regards to what I have seen personally, it is often those who are new to online interaction that are most affected by negative comments, whether this be because they are young or simply haven’t played in the cyber-playground before. Coming to the internet now, without that lovely sense of 90s paranoia, can mean that someone inadvertently makes themselves emotionally vulnerable, simply because they don’t recognise the ramifications that can come of doing this publicly. I like to think of posting online as akin to walking through the streets, proclaiming something through a megaphone – you just don’t know who’s listening.

20100823 Historical Classroom
(click for source)


It’s a mistake to confuse the internet with the schoolyard, even though lots of your old or current school buddies might be milling about here. People in the online world have no responsibility to you or for your feelings and there’s no teacher you can go dobbing to if they upset you. Just like the schoolyard, though, there are going to be people who you will get along fine with, people with the potential to be your best friend and people that you just plain aren’t going to like or aren’t going to like you.

When someone chooses to offer positivity, these online connections are a spectacular thing, however, hang around for a while and you are bound to encounter those who choose to offer negativity and criticism. Most of the time, this is a reflection of what is happening in their own lives, rather than a meaningful comment on your own. A healthy separation of real world self and online self is important when diving into the cyber-pool. This doesn’t mean that you are presenting a ‘fake’ personality, this just means choosing which parts of your life you care to make public and considering how you will feel if someone chooses to react negatively to what you have written or posted. If you only share thoughts that you truly believe in, or truly want feedback on, there is less chance that people will be able to use them to hurt you. Some might try, but their opinion can’t break you if you feel happy in your perspective and also understand that it’s not always your job to try and change theirs. You always have the choice not to respond to a comment or an email, not to follow someone’s blog, or not to be their Facebook friend. This is the way in which you can continue shaping your cyber-world to your personal tastes.

I take everything that I read on the internet with a grain of salt, until evidenced otherwise, including the people that I meet. If somebody that I have interacted with online suddenly displays behaviour that I find distasteful, I can be somewhat disappointed, but I choose to move on and continue to focus on the relationships that I am enjoying. I find it can be beneficial to confront the person who I disagree with, but not to continue arguing if it becomes clear that we simply have opposing views. By discussing an issue openly, rather than getting upset and passive aggressive, I have come to understand and get to know people with whom I have gotten off on the wrong foot. Surprisingly, to me, some of these relationships have actually blossomed beautifully and I have to believe this is because we have established an open dialogue from the beginning. It has not always been easy to not take things personally, but the more I practise it, the better I get. I love that the world is full of diverse opinions and one of the benefits of expressing mine on a blog is that I often get to hear really different points of view. I don’t believe that there is anything more enlightening than a new perspective, even if it simply reaffirms that I truly do believe something that I already thought I believed. Self discovery is a wonderful thing.

There are a lot of how-to lists floating around on the subject of using social media. Personally, I think it all boils down to two things: conducting yourself with integrity and always understanding that there are going to be points of view that you disagree with. I think there is an opportunity for learning any time I find myself reading something aggressively directed toward me or that I simply don’t agree with. Why does it upset me? Because they have attacked me. No, really, why? The truth can hurt, usually if somebody upsets me, it’s because they have triggered somewhere in myself where I feel insufficient in some way. For example, I was an overweight teenager (I’m still not Miss Thinny-Thin-Thin, but it no longer bothers me), as a result, the most offending thing anyone could call me was ‘fat’. Back then I thought differently, but I can see now that this upset wasn’t because it was of no right of theirs to comment on my weight (even if it wasn’t), the hurt was felt because I really didn’t want to be overweight, I just hadn’t quite mentally gotten to a place where I could figure out how to not be that yet.

The best way to avoid getting hurt by people on the internet is to remember that you are on the internet. Even within the privacy of a private account somewhere, you are on the internet. There are a lot of amazing people expressing thoughts on here, there are a lot of opportunities for friendship, learning and growth, but there are also a few shadows to watch out for and opinionated cyber-lurkers dwelling there, who believe that criticising others will ease their own suffering in some way. Sure, I believe it’s twisted to think that hurting other people will make one superior, or more knowledgeable, or stronger, or happier, but unfortunately not everyone is aware of their ability to see things from a different perspective to their own. For some, their own perspective is all they care to know and if you find that their perspective isn’t helpful to your own existence, ignore them and move on, but try not to cry yourself to sleep, on account of this is the internet. Alternative perspectives might offer something new to you, something you hadn’t seen before, other times it might even be a snapshot into how you have personally viewed things in the past, or they might offer you nothing at all, but they are never more than simply someone else’s opinion and you never have to allow them to anger you. I repeat: If you only share thoughts that you truly believe in, or truly want feedback on, there is less chance that people will be able to use them to hurt you.

And now I shall leave you, Audy, to ponder the wisdom of Jack Handey, in relation to what I have been writing about:

“Instead of having “answers” on a math test, they should just call
them “impressions,” and if you got a different “impression,” so what, can’t we all be brothers?”

“I bet when the Neanderthal kids would make a snowman, someone would always end up saying, “Don’t forget the thick, heavy brows.” Then they would all get embarrassed because they remembered they had the big hunky brows too, and they’d get mad and eat the snowman.”

“If you’re robbing a bank and you’re pants fall down, I think it’s okay to laugh and to let the hostages laugh too, because, come on, life is funny.”


Love & Musings,
Caf

P.S. Just for fun and the love of Jack Handey, one more: ‘The wise man can pick up a grain of sand and envision a whole universe. But the stupid man will just lay down on some seaweed and roll around until he’s completely draped in it. Then he’ll standup and go, “Hey, I’m Vine Man.””

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  • 17 thoughts on “Interacting Online: The Joys, The Struggles & Surviving Unharmed

    1. Matthew Smith

      Hi Caf,

      I’ve been on the Internet since 1995, when the net was still quite young but home internet had already begun to happen in some places (mostly through pre-existing closed networks, like AOL and CompuServe, getting linked up). Back then, the main stigma was that it was for nerds, and that the only people who went on it were those who couldn’t get a social life any other way. Quite apart from the “what’s wrong with that?” issue (why shouldn’t such people be able to have a social life if they have problems interacting face to face?), it actually wasn’t true even then; many of us spent time in one part of the campus (or town) talking to people we knew in “real life” in another part.

      It’s not just those with no social skills who benefit from being able to have friendships online; people who are sick or disabled (or just old) and can’t get out easily or are housebound, let alone bedridden, can as well. In the past there were circles and organisations which kept such people in touch by post, but with the Internet you can do it in real time, even if you can’t use a phone. There are lots of communities of those with chronic illnesses (like ME) who have very deep friendships with people they can only contact online.

      I think the whole issue of the internet as a danger has to be put into perspective. In the past, kids were often abused by those the parents trusted, and there were a lot of eyes turned the other way (consider the church child abuse scandals, for example). Parents wouldn’t consider that those people were abusing their kids even though there were often rumours about certain priests. Nowadays, parents will pull their kids off the net in a flash if they think they’re being groomed by some perv.

      Also, although some people can use the Internet to interact with others based on a completely false persona, sometimes people can seem like they’re doing so but really aren’t. When I was researching the story of Lynn Gilderdale, I came across her report of an incident in which someone had decided that her story was all a lie, and told her that others had said so too (which was a lie, and the person involved had a history of this kind of behaviour). I don’t know if she really did think Lynn was lying or just wanted to stir up some trouble, but not being believed was one of the things that had caused Lynn (and others with ME) most distress. To others it may sound understandable when it’s a really extreme story, even for the severe form of that illness, and it’s words on a screen, but to her it probably hurt terribly. Of course, the story became public knowledge a couple of years later when she killed herself.

      I’ve written about online friendships and their value before here.

      1. admin Post author

        Thanks very much for the input, Matthew! You are very right in your post, the internet has brought a whole means of communication to those whom might otherwise be cut off from society by their illnesses. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived without it!! I have heard about fraudsters before too, a recent one infected a group of bloggers, she pretended to have cancer and even took donations apparently! I really hate the fakers out there, they make those of us who are telling the truth all seem less truthful…they should just shut up! The idea of someone else accusing a truly sick person of faking is just horrifying and, as you mentioned, can lead to horrifying consequences :(

    2. Kimberley

      I need to bookmark this. There are SO many passages, so many things that I really relate to here. Not all in a good way too, you know?

      This in particular People in the online world have no responsibility to you or for your feelings and there’s no teacher you can go dobbing to if they upset you

      Argh. This is what I buck against. The lack of structure (which of course, the internet will NEVER have) but me, being a sensitive person, always looks for that person that can say ‘yes! I saw that person being rude to you!’. That validation, that acknowledgement, and protection you know? I do find it terribly hard to seperate online from.. reality because Twitter especially has made me more social. So I do treat online friends (even those I haven’t yet met) as more than ‘online friends’.

      Perhaps a lesson here is trying to find that line, and making it more distinct for myself, so I get hurt less.

      Seriously, I need to bookmark this. This was a brilliantly written post, and the perspective that I certainly need on many times, because I find myself holding back on a few passive aggressive posts.. in reaction to others’ and the way I receive things.

      1. admin Post author

        Thanks so much, Kim! I can completely understand relating in a not good way, having to deal with negative emotions and influences is never all that fun and it can be really hard to let things slide off one’s back, even when I’ve done so before I’ll find myself struggling to let the same issue go when it comes up again. I have to keep hoping that practise will make it much, much easier!!

        i have struggled a lot with there being no structure online, it’s very annoying when someone has upset you and there’s really nothing that can be done about it. I have a buddy that I swap stories of internet crazies with, that is really handy. Whenever one of us has a bit of a tiff or gets accidentally involved with drama, we swap stories, validate our sanity and have a good chuckle and what has gone down. It’s not protection so much as a nice way to release the tension without doing so publicly. I find it nice to be able to have that one person who I know is reasonable and will look at things objectively. Feel free to ever drop me an email if you are having and issue and just want a second opinion :)

        Twitter has been a different social medium than any other I’ve found as far as meeting people. People who tweet regularly are generally who they seem to be in real life, I guess you can’t really hide a personality over a long time or something? I like to treat each person as they come, if they are really chatty and I like what they’ve got to say, I’ll get a bit more involved than if they are kind of more interesting from a distance. There is definitely a big scale of how much I rate my ‘online friends’, I mean, I don’t actually sit there and rate them against one another, but some I get to know better and think of more as a real friend, sometimes I actually forget we’ve never met!

        Thanks so much for the great feedback!! Sometimes it can be good to hold back if you’re writing about something that makes you feel vulnerable. I have found it interesting that the more I focus on viewing who and where negative feedback is coming from, the more I feel comfortable sharing. It’s weird, it’s almost like we have to ‘grow up’ online like we do in the real world! LOL! We are online maturing, nicely, methinks ;D xx

    3. Melissa

      Great post. I really like your comparison of the internet to the playground, because no matter how ‘grown up’ or ‘professional’ some online areas purport to be, too often the behaviour exhibited is more fitting for a schoolyard than a board room.

      I have, unfortunately, been the victim of a situation where a few people’s misbehaviour online became personally hurtful to me. Why? Probably mostly because I didn’t expect it in the least. I’m used to dealing with adults. And even in situations of conflict, I rarely see the type of behaviour in ‘real life’ as I’ve seen online.

      It’s for good reason that as we grow up, we grow beyond the high-school methods of attack, bullying, finger-pointing and dramatics. (Well, most of us, anyway.) Because those kind of antics don’t help solve issues, they don’t further the discussion of issues and they don’t create positive, rewarding relationships. (Which are possible, even if you disagree with each other, if you’re grown up about it.)

      You are right. We have to each be responsible for our own actions AND reactions. And we also have to protect ourselves while remaining open to all the wonderful once-impossible connections that we now can make.

      Without wanting to get all corporate-y about it, Telstra has a great policy for its staff about using social media. They call it the Three Rs: Representation, Responsibility and Respect. (You can find it here: http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php.) Basically it says that online you should represent yourself honestly and fairly, take responsibility for your opinions and your actions, and treat other people with respect. I don’t think that’s too bad a policy for any of us to abide by.

      1. admin Post author

        Thank you! Very good point about the element of surprise, it is quite a shock to suddenly be thrust back into teenagerdom and often a harsh realisation that the people exhibiting these levels of maturity are actually much, much older than the average, underdeveloped teenager. I have reacted immaturely myself in the past and then looked back with a “what was I THINKING?!” attitude, it’s just so easy to be sucked into that mind frame when someone else is approaching you from it. I am liking the Telstra policy, it’s good advice for the online and the real world!! xx

      1. admin Post author

        Ooh, that is a great post!! I was thinking later that I had kind of skipped over the invisibility factor in this post, ta muchly for the addition!!

    4. Tracey

      Such an awesome post Caf!! You are so eloquent and I could not agree with you more – I especially love these words of yours, ‘Personally, I think it all boils down to two things: conducting yourself with integrity and always understanding that there are going to be points of view that you disagree with.’ – HEAR, HEAR! :)

      I’ll be revisiting this again and again I think for further thought and reflection.

      1. admin Post author

        Thanks so much Tracey! The interwebs can get so filled with arguments sometimes that I think that people forget that pretty much all things fall into some sort of grey area of right and wrongness. When I was younger, I always wanted to be ‘right’, these days I can really appreciate, wonder at, and learn from all the diverse and interesting perspectives that people have. It just occurred to me once that pretty much every major personal realisation I’ve had has been a reaction to something that someone else wrote or said that has just clicked a switch in me, if I had never stepped out of my boundaries and cared to hear their points of view, I might still be all switched off inside! Now, that’s a scary thought… *runs away to hide in a corner and ponder that* ;P Much love xx

        1. Tracey

          Like you, I think I spent a lot of my younger years trying to be ‘right’, when the best kind of ‘right’ to be is to just be yourself. I also think this view means being able to appreciate the delightful uniqueness in everyone else as well.

          Sometimes getting a little older, makes us a little wiser and gives us a whole lot more perspective. xx

    5. Jeanne

      Hayley,

      Great post! In my personal experience, the good far outweighs the bad as far as the Internet is concerned.

      The incredible access to information, the ability to meet fellow patients the world over, the ability to give/receive support from people who “get it”, the opportunity to “give back” and/or spread awareness for important cause… these are just some of the wonderful aspects of the Internet.

      As you know, I have seen the dark side too. When I (along with 4 other bloggers) spoke up and suggested (merely) that patients would be wise to check with their own physicians before trying the “false cure” that was being aggressively peddled on Twitter, there were paybacks. Soon, 2 of the 4 bloggers who had spoken up (myself included) were victims of identity theft on Twitter.

      Words cannot express the bedlam that followed. Let’s just say that it was not fun.

      Again, though, the good far outweighs the bad. I am more cautious than most people online. I have seen instances where people “over-shared” and it came back to bite them later.

      The Internet has been a massively useful tool for me in gaining access to information, networking with fellow chronic illness patients, and disseminating information/fighting for causes I believe in (nearly always health-related).

      Great post!

      Jeanne
      xoxo

      1. admin Post author

        Thank you! Your experience is definitely one of the more extreme and upsetting instances that I have encountered, good on you for not being scared off!! As evidenced by a couple of fruitful discussions we have currently going on, the internet is truly capable of as much positivity as negativity!! Many hugs and healing thoughts to you xx

    6. Shauna

      Dear Haley,

      What a beautiful lady you are, and an excellent writer! I love this post, it is insightful and immediately breought back mempories of horrors I’ve seen on the net back in the srating days of AOL as your portal to the onlune wor;d. I was involved in a chat room for years.

      I was that newbie you talk about, well, I sauppose we all are at firest, eh? Being interoogarted by the bully of the room and her goons, if I was another person in that char room under a psydenym, (I adore that word also girl, it reminds me of ‘ergo’), and I found myself falling into this questioning that was never ending, I met 2 people from my area in person, and even then this room bully doubted my reality. Good grief! 8-Z

      I value the online relatiuonships I have made over the years online. It of course broke my heart to hear of suicides, and deaths from the people in that room. I stay in touch with one person from that era of my life…I had to make a serious decision to one day delete my account and stop going in there as it became toxic.

      YOU are one of the ‘online blogging friends’ that has bevcome deeper as we continue to get to know one another better. It is wonderful to know so many ladies esp., that have class and tact and true care online, at times using our ‘pseudonym’ we love so very much, that word used in days long gone by, many IM’s, chat entries, emails, and blog posts later…..

      (Plz look for an email I hope to get off before beddie=bye.)

      Always with…
      Gentle Hugs====<3

      Shauna

      1. Shauna

        Hello again doll,

        I had a tad of trouble on the comments section here tonight honey, I couldn’t use my arrows or mouse touchpad to scroll up to the top to do my spell check…grrr….it wanted to be published, apparently, as suddenly there it was, in all it’s quickly-typed, non-spell checked glory.

        Wish SO much I could fix it and republish….I am a spelling fanatic and that is going to bug me every time I look at it!! hehe

        Sha 😀

      2. Caf Post author

        Hi Shauna! Don’t sweat spelling errors, especially not when you are being so kind as to add your thoughts and share your story! I am loving getting to know you better, the internet has so many wonderful things that it all starts to look good when we learn how to ignore the dodgy parts, LOL! xxoo

    7. Shauna

      My mantra today: “Learn to ignore the dodgy parts, learn to ignore the dodgy parts, learn to ignore the dodgy parts”–Rinse and repeat.

      You get the idea.

      xoxoxo (but Gentle x’s!) :)

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