In my last blog post (about murderous minibus drivers trying to kill off the Wolf – here) I promised a post about an incident from the beginning of the week. However, something has come up that’s made me rethink.
Really and truly, up until I was ‘outed’, I still felt a lot like I was shouting into the ether when I wrote a blog post and, actually, that was okay because it gave me a certain level of freedom. I mean, I’ve always been a little cautious. I’ve never mentioned my own name or the names of the kids or my husband or anyone I know (even the postie…come to think of it, I don’t know the postman’s name). I’ve never mentioned place names. I haven’t even included photos that show our faces.
But, our hair…now, that’s hard to disguise. As I said, I currently have green hair. It’s a little distinctive. And Tyger has very long hair, which wouldn’t be particularly identifying if he were a girl but as a three year old boy it is unthinkable he should have such long hair. In fact, an architect was here just the other day to talk to my parents and Tyger was – as usual – completely naked. The architect talked about ‘she’ and ‘her’ and the ‘little girl’ with every reference to Tyger despite the very obvious clue he was not, in fact, a little girl. This happens a lot. Apparently, long hair trumps a penis (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d type).
The recognisable hair combined with the content of this blog means it was always possible someone I knew would identify me but I suppose I always assumed if it happened it would be at some vague future point and along the lines of, ‘Wait, did you write that thing about autism? Huh, I read that!’ I certainly didn’t expect to be accused of libel (yup – there’s no threat of legal action or anything but the word was used). I didn’t think I was interesting enough for such things. I also wonder how much of the ‘someone told me someone told them you wrote X about…’ nonsense comes from a place of genuine concern and how much comes from a desire to create some drama and be involved in the resulting furor.
Personally, I hate ‘drama’. The thought of a planned confrontation has me sleepless and feeling ill beforehand. The possibility of people getting angry or – much, much worse – upset because of something I’ve done or said (or written) can leave me with a big ball of anxiety in my gut, numbness in my extremities and fuzziness in my vision. I’ll obsess over it for hours or even days.
I try, very hard, to think of people as human beings with real lives and feelings when I write anything on the internet. It’s common knowledge the anonymity of writing something online turns people into nasty, cruel parodies of themselves. I imagine most people have experienced it, even if just from the sidelines. I’ve certainly seen more than one instance of someone being unnecessarily nasty on a forum and it’s clear if the keyboard warrior was actually presented with the victim – with their distress written across their face and voice catching and all the actual queues we pick up on when we see people in the flesh – the attacker would feel terrible.
Actually, when someone’s right there in front of us, we’re a pretty empathetic bunch.
I try to bear the same things in mind when writing about people I’ve met but it’s all a little different. Both the moral and legal implications of writing about someone you have actually spoken to face to face are hard to tease out. There’s always a chance they will see what you’ve written. Should you avoid ever referencing anything that might be problematic if read by certain people? Is it different to talking to your friends and family about things that have happened to you? There’s still a chance it will get back to someone in that case. Should we all cease talking about other people completely, even if we need advice or need to vent?
We teach our kids about internet safety. Okay, the only internet safety I’ve taught Tyger so far is not to put the laptop cable in his mouth but as he gets older I’ll need to talk to him about being careful about what he says and not giving away identifying information. What about us adults?
|Does this look tasty to you because apparently to toddlers and
preschoolers it’s indistinguishable from a lollipop.
This blog, certain forums, Facebook groups, Twitter: I have had some excellent support, advice, help and – not insignificantly – enjoyment from all of them. Sharing personal details, experiences and problems has been an important part of that. Sometimes it’s necessary in order to give a full picture when you need advice. Sometimes you want to tell people about your own experiences so they can learn from them or just so they’re aware they’re not alone.
Should people in a position of authority and responsibility never be spoken about or mentioned in person or online? Is that a realistic expectation?
What about when someone wants advice about a doctor’s appointment? Or when a parent is trying to work through an incident their child had with a teacher? In a world where we conduct a large number of our interactions online can doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, nursery nurses, advisers, politicians etc. etc. really demand to never have them, their actions or their place of work discussed on the internet?
I don’t have the answer. I don’t know when – or if – I will have the answer. For the time being, at least, I need to have a serious think about how much I should censor my online content.