I’m back here, on my much neglected blog, weary and insecure from 18 months of increasingly hostile social networking abuse. Why the abuse? I have been thinking about that. For someone orientated to giving more than the occasional monologue, the short, sharp attention grabbing (and often seeking) posts of a social networking site are something of a potential minefield. The newsfeed of your facebook account, the front page of your twitter account, these things hold up a mirror to your soul…but do they? Increasingly I have feared that my friends and those aware of my internet life see my inner being as a set of headlines, many of which are reactionary and give a poor impression of my inner life. I fear that the person that people see is, in some ways, a pastiche of myself, a fiction, and in other ways that the elements of truth about myself that I would otherwise shy away from revealing to any but my most trusted of friends stand to be put on trial by the public jury.
There are other elements of the social network phenomenon that trouble me. The involvement of the media in targeted advertising. The encouragement to share more and more of your private details, allowing interested parties to profile your movements and behaviour patterns. It would not be difficult for people to ascertain which day I go to university, when I tend to go cycling, who I go to the pub with, my date of birth, where I shop, all of the little details which someone with an interest in doing so could use to take advantage of my behaviour, or worse, convince another person that they were me.
Then there are the interactions. A close friend of mine reminded me today of the term “keyboard warrior” that we used to use a lot about people who were all bravery, threats and promises in an online forum, irritating the other members with their egotistical ranting and cajoling. These days it seems to take a lot from preventing any of us from becoming that keyboard warrior, or sitting atop our ivory towers judging the behaviour of others around us whilst convincing ourselves that we are throwing pearls of wisdom amongst the swine of humanity.
A friend of mine who I hold in some esteem recently felt comfortable to compare an image of me to that of a mass murderer and right wing extremist, and in typical social networking style I overreacted, demanding an immediate apology (which was forthcoming, of sorts “you don’t share his politics but you still look like him”). Afterwards, during a period of introspection, I examined the wrongs of the situation – we think all sorts of things about people every day, but we seldom feel brave enough to say them, unless there’s a keyboard and monitor seperating us from the person we’re saying them about, in which case all respect and sense of propriety comes to nought. Similarly, a comment such as that which was made may not be one that is easy to brush off. However, knowing my temper, were this comment to have been made in my presence, I would have been most likely to try and brush it off and ignore it rather than reacting by demanding an apology. This is no bad thing. Not telling people when they have managed to insult you and get under your skin is part of the natural balancing act that most of us have to do in order to conduct social interactions, have friendships and find a basis to relate to other people. But it is an act, and most people are not sufficiently thick-skinned not to be insulted frequently by people that they are nonetheless on good or even close terms with for the majority of their lives. The important thing is that in most cases it is only the most sensitive of us, often the ones who cast themselves most frequently as victim, that will let on that their feelings were ever hurt.
There are aspects of social networking that I enjoy. The ability to gather like-minded people from far and wide together in one environment. The social connection when no other connection is possible, which can be a valuable tool to prevent isolation. The ability to share enthusiasms and interests with people who will understand and indulge these interests. The ability to mentor others in shared interests and pursuits, and to foster (sporadically) intelligent discussion. These are all good, healthy, positive things. However, for many they are also potentially somewhat dangerous and complicated elements that easily manifest themselves in the unhealthy behaviour of an addictive personality, via frequent posting, trolling and other activities that indicate a desire for attention and a desire to control the perception of others more closely.
A few recent incidents have led me to these thoughts, and now my hand has been forced to action: About 20 hours ago, a friend of mine made me aware that she had been the victim of a complex and disturbing campaign of harassment that had culminated in several of her online accounts being hacked and the contents of message and chat records being produced as text documents in order for her abuser to make her aware of his level of infiltration and control. Approximately 18 hours ago, having become concerned at the apparent severity of the attack and being aware that some of this individual’s threatening behaviour had been directed towards me, I closed both my facebook and twitter accounts. I edited details on other online accounts, and I am in the process of reviewing more accounts that may be vulnerable to attack from a proficient individual.
As a result of this, like a junkie searching for his fix, in my case of interaction, validation, gossip and communication I have picked up my smart phone and absent-mindedly flicked through the menus to where the facebook logo should appear some thirty times in a matter of a few hours. I have spent the afternoon browsing for bike parts that I do not need, and I’m considering making a longer term commitment to a blog that I have neglected for 18 months. This is of some concern to me and indicates that the problem is a little deeper than I had first imagined.
In recent months a number of thoughts have gone through my head about social networking: That it is unhealthy; that it is addictive; that it encourages conflict where none need occur; that it causes the people that we see most often to become bored with us and those whom we would see less frequently to become over-familiar; and that overall it causes us to take what used to be meaningful interactions that we would give great time and consideration to for granted, whilst jeopardising both our privacy and, by virtue of this, our identities, both hypothetically and actually. Things seem to have arrived at a head for me now, in that by virtue of the sheer number of my online interactions via social networking sites I have exponentially increased my risk of coming across something sinister that I must take measures to protect myself from, and that appears to be exactly what has happened. However, I also feel a certain acceptance of the inevitable, that like the junkie who has courted formal intervention by third parties to curtail his addiction, for I too must now alter my behaviour for the sake of both my safety and my sanity. I’m not sure when or whether I will reopen my social networking accounts, and for the time being I know that cold turkey is the cure, but I am sure that at the point that I do renew my relationship with this new technology it must no longer be the relationship of an addict with his drug. That’s all for now.