The on-line world once seemed like a fun, open place where you could easily and happily keep track of your friends’ trips, kids, and birthdays. But as it has developed it seems to get angrier, and weirder, and creepier every day — to the point where many of the thoughtful people I know have decided to retreat completely from “social media” and avoid the on-line world like it’s a dangerous dark alley in the low-rent part of town.
Why have they decided to abandon Facebook and remove themselves from the internet to the maximum practicable extent in today’s on-line world? Consider this story, about a woman who posted a negative on-line review of a local tavern where she’d gone for a bachelorette party. She says she and her friends were well behaved and were inexplicably treated rudely by the bartender, so she gave the bar a bad rating, and some highly critical comments, on Yelp. Other patrons of the bar, and the bartender, say the bachelorette party group was drunk and disruptive.
If we simply had a disagreement about what actually happened at the bar when the bachelorette party arrived, there would be no story here — we all know that there are two sides to every story and people’s perceptions of events can differ. But this story took a sick and twisted turn when some people started reacting to the bad review by posting ugly, sexually explicit comments about the reviewer, found her Facebook page and where she worked, and even went on her wedding website and RSVP’d that they would be attending. It’s a classic example of over-the-top, alarming cyberbullying that, unfortunately, has become increasingly common on-line. And you never know what might trigger such behavior; a comment that you consider to be fair under the circumstances might push a cyberstalker over the edge and make you their target.
My grandmother used to say, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s not bad advice to keep in mind the next time you’re tempted to write something negative on-line. These days, who knows where a few harsh words might lead?