Okay, first the internet gods demand the official obligatory opening for all blog-based rants for this year. I’m a rebel and all, but this is SACRED. I have to. So …
2020, am I right?! What a year! Geez Louise—one for the books!
(I have the option of an extended rant, or so I’m told, in which I can rattle on about specific things I find particularly grievous about this year. I’m not going to exercise that right because, fuck me, there’s too much. WAY too much.)
Oh. Before I forget. There’s also a prayer.
I make this offering to the internet gods, fickle though they be. May they be pleased by my conformity masquerading as rugged individualism. May they grant me indecent organic web traffic, boosting my currently unknown blog to greater heights than I ever dared to imagine and making me an improbable internet sensation. And may their unpredictable favor fall on me yet one more day, for the entirety of my value as a person rests in their erratic hands.
Whew. I feel better. Now, on to the utterly stupid thing I did on Facebook.
I attempted discourse with people who don’t see things the way I do.
I know what you’re thinking. “Ashley, what in God’s name possessed you?! You KNOW what happens to people who do that! For fuck’s sake, woman. They’ll eat you alive!”
And eat me they did. [wink]
But seriously, they flayed me. They skinned me, sprinkled me with salt, roasted me up all nice and toasty, and dined on the still sizzling, oh-so-tender ribs that once housed my heart.
The specifics don’t really matter. There were opinions. The issue was touchy. It was admittedly a tough thing to try to chat about on fucking Facebook. But, you see, dear readers, I’m a fool. I often think that if I’m respectful to others, they’ll be respectful back.
Online! Can you even imagine?!
I was articulate and respectful, though I was also firm in my opinion. It was something I felt strongly about. I also read their statements of disagreement and actually considered their point of view. But they didn’t change my mind.
We went back and forth for a bit … and then the whole thing went sideways and the first of several personal attacks was made. Here’s the high point. They called me a troll.
I pointed out that I had been nothing but sincere, respectful and polite. I mean, that doesn’t sound like trollish behavior to me. And then they told me I wasn’t just any ol’ troll. Oh, no. I was a sea lion.
I didn’t know what that meant, either.
Here’s what Wikipedia says. “Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment which consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretense of civility and sincerity.”
Um … so … yeah.
A sea lion is someone who consistently asks for evidence (oh-my-fucking–God!) or persistently asks the same question, staying on topic until an answer is given (sweet baby Jesus!), all the while (here’s the most devious, diabolical part) remaining civil and sounding sincere (fucking hell, the devil is among us!).
Game, set, match.
They had me cornered. What could I do? Seriously, what the fuck could I do? If I kept being polite and sincere, they’d only double down and say, “See?! You’re a SEA LION!”
If I stayed on topic, “SEA LION, SEA LION, SEA LION!”
And if I tucked tail and retreated, “VICTORY OVER THE SEA LION! We vanquished her trolly ass by calling her names until she ran away because we are most certainly not trolls or internet bullies and this victory has been both hard-won and virtuous!”
So I just … stopped.
I wrote one final message to let them know they’d hurt my feelings. I dropped my guard and said that. I admitted I was crying as I typed, because I was. Then I privately told the one friend I had in that conversation that her other friends had left me feeling helpless, cornered and bullied.
A couple of hours later, someone decided to wade into the conversation and continue blasting me. I started to read the posts and then decided it was better not to. Instead, I turned off notifications for that conversation and moved on.
Why? Because people online can be so very mean, and being nice, polite and respectful back doesn’t stop them.
I’d guess no one in that conversation meant to gang up on me. These are people who don’t even know me personally. It’s not like they would have any way of knowing I reek with sincerity to the point that friends sometimes roll their eyes at me … purely for meaning nearly every damn thing I say.
I was just a squeaky wheel. A voice that didn’t mesh with theirs. They silenced me, probably feeling like they were doing the world a favor. The fact that the experience left me weeping was incidental.
And right about now someone reading this (does anyone read this shit?) is thinking, “Well, yeah. This election.” Or, “The state the world is in right now.” Or, “The virus and this fucking quarantine.”
But the truth is, none of that is to blame.
People bully each other online every day, and most of them don’t even mean to. We just don’t see people as people. We’re losing bits of our humanity, byte by byte, and we’re convinced our always-defensive posturing is a necessary evil because if we don’t crush the opposition, even in post-based conversations on Facebook, the opposition will crush us.
It’s why so many people have just left Facebook. But I’m not leaving. And I’m not going to be quiet.
I’m going to stay right where I am and keep on trying to be both sincere and respectful, even if people call me a sea lion. (I mean, they ARE cute AF.) The bullies only win if they beat me up badly enough that I stay down instead of getting back on my feet.
I’m done being stepped on like that.
So, respectfully, I say “fuck you” to the bullies, the internet gangs, the folks on the assorted social media platforms of the interwebs who want to assume anyone who disagrees with them is clearly a harbinger of imminent doom and the bringer of all things evil.
You might make me cry. In fact, there’s a good chance you will. But you won’t make me shut up.
One final thought.
I think the takeaway here is to let this serve as a reminder. Every word on the internet was written BY A PERSON. Before we lash out mercilessly, it’s good to pause and think about how our words might make that person feel.
Which is not to say we should always agree or coddle people online. But when you find yourself in conversation on platforms like Facebook where friends-of-friends are also speaking up, don’t assume the other voices are demonic.
Assume good intent and try to have constructive dialogue.