i am a writer in the digital age, which means i am practically required to have personal social media accounts that should ostensibly help supplement my career. the idea behind these outlets is to give voice to ideas that i wouldn’t necessarily publish elsewhere, or make friends, or help people learn about what i am like. they’re something of a privilege in that regard, but the idea of social media comes fraught with problems, as most anything good does. writers as a group are notoriously known as a difficult, fucked up bunch—alcoholics, emotionally unstable, addicts etc—and giving them an outlet to air out all of these grievances in the semblance of “public” sometimes seems like a pretty bad idea. there’s squabbles and oversharing, desperate pleas for attention or help and certainly certainly there’s violations of other people’s privacy. usually those people are women.
this year feels like one long outcry against how prevalent this is, from amanda hess’ groundbreaking essay about how unwelcome women are on the internet at the start of this year to the latest disgusting 4chan nude photo leak. the message to women on the internet is clear—you’re here to be consumed. and consumed! talk about a word replete with meaning. consumed goes both ways, i can be consumed with the internet, or i can be a character on the internet being consumed by others, with or without my permission. because a public presence on this strange, weirdly wonderful platform we call the web is a sort of quiet acquiescence to be consumed by others. sometimes the web of people who are consuming what you thrust out into the world are charmed by it, sometimes they are a marvelous form of support or a sort of sounding board, and drive conversations and creativity that would’ve been impossible to achieve through any other medium. but sometimes, they are hurt by you or you are hurt by them. sometimes a code of conduct is violated that would never have been possible in reality, and this can be done in insidious and very damaging ways.
i am the first to admit that i have been on the administrating end of this kind of behavior. if i could take back the subtweets, unfollows, criticisms both veiled and pointed that i have doled out over the course of my career so far i would wipe it clean like a hard drive. i would erase whatever animosity and pain i’ve catapulted into people’s feeds and just shut my goddamn mouth. lord knows i’ve botched enough stuff interpersonally and professionally to make this wish a cutting one most days. perhaps most recently, i’ve been pretty public with my rollercoaster of emotions following the dissolution of a romantic relationship. so yeah, most people who follow me on here know about my split from my boyfriend—most of them don’t know about another, much deeper and more intense issue that i am coping with on top of that. or rather, that kind of led to that relationship’s disintegration. and i’m not going to share that on social media or anywhere publicly for now because it involves too many other people and too many other angles. but i think the point is that even if you think you know what’s going on with a situation because of what you’ve seen on social media, it’s still a thinly sliced, piecemeal version of the truth, and i think we sometimes forget that.
what’s worse, i think some of those sensibilities about personal sharing and the power we have to air other people out has crept into the work that we do on actual platforms. you know, websites that publish articles for money and that keep these words accessible forever. the way that our social webs develop now, if an article like this with a lot of pointedly personal information goes up, we call it a “sub-article,” referring to the idea of subtweeting and the passive aggressive violence of pseudo-anonymity. to my knowledge, this hadn’t ever happened to me until last night. some private & personal experiences and memories that i shared with someone who i deeply trusted were suddenly scattered across a long, needling post with only one clear audience member in mind: me. it was completely frightening to see memories from years ago leaked into a public forum willy nilly, right alongside moments from just a few days before that i had prized as the final, lasting impression of a relationship that was wheezing its way into oblivion. those moments had been my form of closure, my last golden capstone to one of the most beautiful things i’ve ever gotten to experience in my life. and now they were available to everyone instead of locked away in the secret diary of my mind.
it felt worse than if nude photos of my physical body had leaked—it felt like my naked mind was exposed. obviously, i did what i could to contact anyone who could help me achieve my first instinct: cover me back up, stop revealing me. but i found that the channels i had at my disposal all led back to straight, white men who seemed to have no interest or stake in alleviating the violation of privacy i felt. i only mention this because all of the women i shared my concern with immediately empathized and agreed with me. the differenced was drastic. i had always empathized with women on the internet who were bullied, harassed and exposed, but i’m pretty sure i had never felt the full weight of that until yesterday. the helplessness, the anger, the injustice—it all bubbled up—and in something that to most people probably would’ve seemed like a minor situation. and while this was all surfacing, simultaneously came the knowledge of all the times i had been on the other end of this, willfully tipping out information and private details about other people under the guise of “candor” or “honesty”—to ease my own pain or create my own version of the story. or worse, times when i said things specifically to mock or bring down the ideas of other people. this realization hurt almost as much as the feeling of violation i had from my own personal shit being laid out.
so, how do i go on from here? i’m well aware this post will probably draw more attention to the whole situation, but that’s okay because it has come to represent something larger to me. eventually, the pain of this breach in my privacy will pass. but i have a much fuller understanding of the ways in which people take others to task or air them out without stopping to consider what they’re really doing. i have grasped the ways in which i have done that in the past and feel compelled to make this post to apologize to anyone who has ever felt like my social sharing breached their own privacy or hurt them in some way. that isn’t the point of this technology we’ve created, and it sucks that because we are humans and fail all the time that it twists into that sometimes.
i hope the next time someone asks you not to share something they deem private, you honor that request instead of brushing it off. whether it’s a celebrity or a nobody, someone you used to love or someone you now hate. this seems to be an integral part of the ethics of journalism in the digital era we now live and work in. every person should get to decide for themselves what they feel a violation of privacy is, and until we get a more functional structure on vetting these breaches, we just have to be careful.
there’s hearts & bones behind these screens. and they can break.