Last week, while taking a break from work, I found myself reading through a friend’s personal blog. While everything was well written, and while the author herself did a careful job remaining anonymous to most of her readers, I couldn’t help but cringe at some of the stuff she was writing about. Personal stuff. Stuff that, once it’s out there, you just can’t take back.
Part of my cringing was due to the fact that about a year ago, I was right there with her. I’ve had a personal blog for years, and it used to be the one place where I could completely dump my emotions. A creative writer who has to work (on non-creative writing) quite a lot to pay the bills, I don’t always get to spend the hours a day I’d like to on my own pieces — so whenever I was itching to say something, and didn’t seem to have the time or energy to dive into a script or short story, I would unload on my personal blog.
I was anonymous back then, and didn’t feel the need to censor anything I wrote. After all, wasn’t that what blogs were for? Verbally drop-kicking people who hurt me, divulging my uneasy secrets to get them off my chest, saying everything I could never say in real life? Wasn’t that what the Internet was for? Finally — a way to be noticed without being called out.
But slowly, my opinion changed.
It was a progression, really. First, I began to notice the amount of negative, bullying and outright awful anonymous comments that would occasionally pop up on articles I would write for one of my many jobs. The comments were completely overblown, absurdly personal and often cruel for no good reason – all over a simple difference of opinion (often, political opinion). Initially I felt hurt, but that hurt soon transformed into intense frustration.
Who were these anonymous voices that used the cover of the Internet to bully from afar? How cowardly could someone be, to sling mud without ever signing their name? And, didn’t they know that the websites they were commenting on had their IP and most times, email address?
See, no matter how incognito these bullies wanted to be — their actions could eventually catch up with them.
And that was the second part of my changing opinion on having an “online” personality versus a “reality” based one; nothing we type or send or post, no matter how “secret,” is actually really secret.
All that stuff can be unearthed, and traced back to us — from a drunken, half-naked photo to an angry rant on a political website. Keywords are powerful things, and most people have no idea how to cover their online tracks, so while the chances of an ex-partner or boss finding your online diatribe against them are slim — they’re still there.
When we yell into the air, those words eventually stop ringing in the rafters and evaporate. But when we press Publish — our words turn into fossils, forever stuck in the invisible, but oh so easily excavated, online world.
All of this is why now, no matter what I write, be it on Facebook or Twitter or my personal blog or a comment on someone else’s website, I make sure the words I’m typing are words I am willing to stand behind.
At this stage in my life, I want people to view me as someone with integrity. There’s no integrity in anonymously lampooning someone simply because they pissed me off, and there’s certainly no integrity in using the Internet to shield me from the consequences of my actions.* Similarly, using a mask of secrecy to assuage my guilt or fears, instead of staring them down and sitting with them in all of their real power, will never help me come to terms with what I’ve done in my life, and ultimately, who I hope to become.
Blending my online persona with who I really am can sometimes feel boring; after all, there’s no way to make myself seem super awesome and interesting through carefully crafted Facebook updates or a half-true blog post, but if a slight mundane-ness is the price I have to pay for living a truthful life — both online and off — then bring on the ordinary. And while there are still times I wish I could anonymously unleash my anger or snark against a person or institution in a way I’d never dare in real life, I have found that nine times out of ten, after the storm has passed, I am supremely grateful that my trigger finger never pressed that Publish button.
* Note – Obviously, in certain climates, anonymity is essential to staying safe — but there’s a big difference between anonymously standing up against a politically corrupt regime that could end your life, and anonymous ranting.