I continue to be baffled by the disconnect between many people’s online personas and their real life selves. Sometimes it feels like the internet opened Pandora’s Box and all this creepy, deranged sh*t started flying out. I saw a TV news teaser yesterday saying the Supreme Court had ruled on whether making a death threat via social media was prosecutable. “The answer may surprise you” said the announcer. I didn’t care enough about the answer to either hang around and learn it, or to Google it now. I guess if I ever get online death threats, I’ll be motivated to look into it. But yeesh, what is wrong with people?!?
You know, it was tricky enough trying to figure out who people were before. Now there’s this whole other layer, this whole other character sometimes, to be studied or understood. There was an old game show where 3 people (I think it was 3) pretended to be a particular individual and the contestant had to guess, based on asking questions, which one was the real person. At the end the host would say something like, “Would the real such-and-so please step forward!” That’s how the internet feels: Would the real person please step forward?
I know somebody, a grown person, who deliberately – in my estimation – makes a lot of trouble online. This person reported that on meeting them in real life, other people were pleasantly surprised, having previously thought the instigator was a “real asshole.” See, I think the “instigator” is pleased by having, or seeming to have, a dual persona. The “why” of it puzzles me yet. Do people – because I know this scenario isn’t an isolated or uncommon one – do this to keep others off-balance? To trot out their uglier, angrier selves online where there’s less risk? After all, when you do or say something in person, consequences, rebuttals and reprisals can be immediate. You’re exposed. Not nearly so online.
And – Is the internet an outlet for people who have trouble getting attention in real life? Who are pissed off and can force people online to pay attention to them? If only by being outrageous or controversial? To say what they otherwise daren’t?
So the question is: who’s the bonafide person? The one spouting off online, whether in emails or on social forums, or the one walking around in the real world? Should a person be measured by their propensity for online ugliness?
I’ve had people say things to me online who then tried to minimize or sidestep their comments when faced with me in real life. Who seemed to have a hard time looking me in the eye even, when questioned or challenged about what they said/wrote. I almost got the feeling I was breaking an unspoken contract: what happens online stays online. To this I say “Pah!” Where is that written? I never agreed to it.
Here’s the thing. Of their snotty, rude, or vicious things said online, somehow people think it doesn’t count. And you know what this totally reminds me of? What people say about being drunk. How they dismiss – or minimize – their words and actions while sh*t-faced. When confronted with what they said by the light of day, so to speak, they shirk and mitigate: “I didn’t mean any of that. I was drunk.” You, the one who witnessed or was on the receiving end of their drunken exploits and diatribes, aren’t supposed to count it. But I did. I do. And it’s the same here. What’s said online matters. It counts.