Monday, October 18, 2004

No Opinion, Expressed at Length.

Shelly has a couple of entries over on Occasional Blog about recent controversies over AOL Journalers allegedly deceiving each other about who they are and the experiences they've had, and other journalers getting all het up about it. Right off the bat, let me make it clear that I have no opinion on the specific controversies. I have no idea which journals and people were involved, and what did or did not really happen, and who did or did not criticize anyone else. I don't even feel it's my responsibility to try to find out about any of these things. I'd make a pretty good juror, I think, because unless I have a specific responsibility to form an opinion over a specific case, I usually don't. I don't know or care, for example, what Kobe Bryant did or did not do with that woman.

That said, when it comes to deliberate deception on a blog, I'm "agin it." It upsets people, and may be evidence (if the blogger really is doing it) that he or she has some personality, emotional or social problem. (Or not.) A few such people may be sufficiently mentally ill to be mildly dangerous (or at least a nuisance) to others who unwisely get involved. Whether this is true of any one of the many thousands of AOL Journalers is something I can't begin to answer on a case by case basis (nor should I), but the odds are good that it's true of somebody somewhere.

In my limited experience, journalers who admit or proclaim their mental illness tend to be nice, interesting, engaging, mostly functional people. This is also true of my two mentally ill friends. That's very different, however, from postings by people who set out to deceive. I have been on the receiving end of mild harassment by a stalker who long ago used to frequently post on Quantum Leap message boards under false identities. This person's attentions were scary enough with respect to another of her perceived enemies that the FBI got involved at one point. I hesitated to mention her existence here, even this vaguely, lest I set her off again.

So what should anybody do about blogs they know or suspect to be a cruel lie? Probably nothing. It is not the responsibility of the AOL-J community to judge each other's veracity or mental health. If somebody posts that she is going to jump off a bridge tomorrow, a person who knows where she lives should probably check on her. But that's the point: personal contact is required to really know what's going on. That's the responsibility of family, friends, employers, religious communities, social service agencies, medical people or, if the person has none of the above, anyone else who notices that someone in a bad way. The responsibility of the journaler is to exercise a reasonable amount of healthy skepticism, avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions, and, if the journaler's claims seem dubious, to decide whether to read the journal any more.

AOL Journals are, of course, welcome to have and even express opinions. That's what blogging is about. I myself have the opinion that Shelly is a librarian who lives in or near NYC, expresses herself well and sometimes bluntly, and has spent the past couple of years working intermittently on a novel about Mars. (I think I have pretty good evidence for all this, but I don't really know that the biographical details are true.) Attacking each other, especially based on raw emotion and without evidence, is probably a Bad Thing.

Shelly, I know (or think I know), can take care of herself. But a lot of people are more thin-skinned. I was mildly upset for half an hour today because some commenter criticized my shoes. (Sorry, kid: I'm not going to limp around in significant pain for the rest of my life for the sake of shoe fashion!) It's therefore a good idea for people to try to be a little less judgmental and a little more tolerant. If someone is telling the truth, he or she does not deserve to be accused of lying. If the person is lying, there's a small chance that the accuser is making an enemy of someone who just might do something about it.



alphawoman1 said...

I have found that mentally ill people are usually extremely interesting! Ha! (I am I have tried to step back from AOL Jnls due to the fact that I found I was getting my cyber space feelings hurt and that was just crazy! I have been criticized too on various subjects!  If people want to misrepresent themselves, as has happen on many occassions here, it is so easy to do!!! Like I said, I just try to step back and tell myself the REAL world is outside my door, not inside this machine.

daephene said...

You know I saw that shoe comment and my first thuoght was that it was a complete waste of time.  First, they obviously just looked at the pictures without reading your explanation, and second they left an unhelpful, pointless comment.  Don't people have better things to do? I knew people like that back in the Prodigy days, and I still don't get it.  Anyway, reflects more on them than on your shoes, especially since you have a perfectly good reason for not being completely superficial about style issues!  

My coworkers have bone spurs too, by the way.