I just realized a person I “circled” on G+ is a controversial mommy blogger of questionable judgment. I promptly uncircled her. It doesn’t matter if this blogger “deserves” my uncircling. She may or may not, in your opinion. In my opinion, it behooves me to avoid drama. I’ve learned many, many hard lessons over the years as a blogger and as an Internet user. I’m now a big proponent of learning how to identify and avoid waves of hateful passion that rise up usually without the least bit of supportive facts.
This particular mommy blogger posted an apology to another amateur investigator blogger whom she harassed and bullied online for investigating the death of a 2-year-old. Turns out the amateur investigator was somewhat justified in her pursuit of the mother’s culpability in that death. There were mistakes made all around by both bloggers, so I won’t tell you that either blogger deserves your sympathy. Personal responsibility is key online and off. Those women jumped into that quagmire of “cause” and they both will have to pay for those choices. But what can we, as conscientious Internet users, take away from this situation?
Here are some take-away lessons for the professional and polite online user:
1. Leave groups that are prone to impassioned causes, especially groups that take up virtual pitchforks against private individuals. Consider disassociating yourself with individuals of questionable character.
2. Do not post, on any platform, opinions about people, places, or things without real-world (not just online opinions) evidence. Learn the difference between fact and opinion, so as to be able to better assess the validity of what you read online.
3. Tread carefully around libel; learn to recognize it. Online cases are being heard and recognized by courts; soon it will be the norm.
4. If you simply must discuss someone or some situation, take it off public online forums. Find or make a private group or email a friend. FB, Twitter, G+, etc. are not your partners in “finding truth” or “raising the flag.” These sites (and your own public blog) are not your friends.
I realize that many of you love your dogma about freedom of expression, etc., and I get it, but there is no expression, no freedom, without prices, without consequences. Now we are faced with a world of permanent records of our expressions that *we do not own* and therefore do not control. There really is no taking back of what you post online.
To riff off West Side Story: there is a community online somewhere for all of us. There are places for you to spout off. Public sites are not those places. Free apps are not those places. For people concerned with their credibility and reputation, there is no room for error. Be careful out there, folks. Waves of hateful passion are hard to avoid, and impossible to control.