On Virtual Expression

I considered writing something along these lines a while back when I felt particular backlash to a post that appeared on SHE-Bomb, but decided against it on the grounds that my post might only function to further infuriate those who were so proudly (stoically?) enraged. Basically I took a “cooler heads will prevail” approach. But I’ve been thinking about some of the comments I’ve read on this website, and I’m taken aback by the etiquette people take to writing online. Basically, I’m repeatedly surprised by the difference between “arguing” (if it can be called that) on the Internet and discussion in what I’ll call “real life”: my surprise comes not from a lack of etiquette, but rather from a different type of etiquette.


Before I get to my central thought, though, I want to point out that I think there is a similarity between posting online on, say, SHE-Bomb, and posting on Facebook and/or Twitter. The virtual world that Facebook and Twitter create for me, my virtual identity, allows me to express myself without engaging in real-world interactions. Basically I find that there is a difference between the delayed response I receive online (if there is any response at all) and the immediate response I receive in real world interaction. Posting online allows me to feel as if I am posting in a vacuum—feel as if I can say whatever I want while hiding behind a screen. What it comes down to, I think, is that not expressing myself in front of actual people gives me the privilege of not having to really think about what I’m saying: the “real-world” implications of what I say are drowned out without a tangible audience. I don’t have to censor myself (or perhaps rather than censor, use reason to decide what is a bad idea to post) because what I say isn’t necessarily coming from me—in this instance it’s coming from The Scholen One (or it could come from a “virtual me,” like my Facebook account).


And so I’m curious about how it is that people respond (and more personally how I write) online. Having read a plethora of posts and comments, I can’t help but think that in “real life,” people would never say some of the things they say online. Here, again, our screen, our virtual identity, allows us to feel as if we’re not actually doing the talking—that the words we write are not necessarily coming from us. This trend is only aided by the option of anonymous posting. With no audience and no repercussions for hurtful or inaccurate words what, if anything, functions as a reasonable censor? More fundamentally, is there anything wrong with this? I’m not sure there is, I think that maybe it’s just different.


It seems to me, then, that when posting online, one should, at the very least, recognize the precarious structure upon which online communication is built. (Admittedly, I write under a pseudonym, but (if it makes any difference) the single time I wrote a semi-controversial post I had people coming up to me and asking about it—in other words I’m not writing entirely anonymously—and I would have been perfectly willing to say what I said to whomever would listen even in “real life” (or at least I tell myself I would!).) It’s hard to be bold in person; on the contrary, it’s much easier to be bold online. I’m not saying anything ought to change, just that I feel people should think about how the medium through which they express themselves affects what they say; I think people should recognize that, maybe, if they would not say something in “real life,” they should not say it from behind their screen.



—The Scholen One from behind my screen



Image from: http://www.thedigitalbus.com/facebook-mobile-arrives/