Withdraw, but don’t be upset
April 22, 2015 by Thomas Wictor
Over the past several weeks, I’ve received many messages from people who are closing their Twitter and Facebook accounts due to the unending hate they face. I think that’s a reasonable reaction. What bothers me is that they think that they’re weak for opting out. I want to tell everyone who’s considering self-banishment from social media that you should withdraw without any sense of failure. Social media failed you.
I’ve been a hermit since 2002, when I resigned from music journalism. Becoming solitary was the best decision I ever made. It allowed me to prepare for the future, which is now my present.
Thirteen years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the constant harassment I get for supporting Israel and for being an individual. In 2002 I couldn’t have shrugged off stuff like this, which was put in place of my Website a few days ago.
On Twitter I’m assaulted daily for expressing my opinion. I expected that, but what I didn’t expect was people turning me into some kind of hero and then getting angry at me when I didn’t conform to the false image of me that they’d constructed. This is from someone who used to like me.
I don’t even know this man. He keeps sending me e-mails that say that he’s not going to contact me anymore. His next-to-last message was six or seven paragraphs of microscopic writing. I told him I didn’t bother reading it because it was almost invisible, so that’s why he referenced big letters.
This is the secret about social media: You don’t know any of these people. The inventors of Twitter and Facebook and everything else deliberately used terms such as “friends” and “like,” but these aren’t your friends. How can they be? If you’ve never met someone, you’re not friends with them.
Social media encourages people to hide who they really are. In 2009 I had a terrible experience with someone I “met” online. We were always the last two people talking in the comments section of a now-gigantic Website. I wrote about her in Ghosts and Ballyhoo as “Ariel.” She was very funny and ironic; she liked to post as different people, and when I would figure out it was her, I’d write, “You hold your water, young lady!” It’s a line from the TV miniseries Sybil, which is about a woman with multiple personalities.
I’d always close our evening conversations with a poem or link to a song. Since she was only twenty-four (she said), all my poems or songs were new to her.
This section from Edmund Blunden’s “On Reading that the Rebuilding of Ypres Approached Completion” changed everything.
I hear you now, I hear you, shy perpetual companion,
Whose deep whispers
Never wholly fail upon my twilight; but for months now
Too dimly quivered
About the crowded corridors of action and the clamouring
Swarmed ingresses where like squinting cobblers and worse creatures
On a weary ship that moors in the dock, with grimy hatches,
Well, Ariel wrote a code that allowed me to find a post on the Website that was several years old. We talked to each other in the comments section, deep in the archives, out of sight, and she told me that nobody had ever understood her as well as I did. After a few nights of these “private” discussions, she said, “I have to tell you something.”
“You were institutionalized,” I wrote back.
She was shocked that I knew, but I told her it didn’t matter, as long as she felt better now.
Gradually she told me things that made me worry about her safety, so I did something very stupid: I told her my real name. I posted it for a moment, along with a link to a photo of me I temporarily put up on Flickr, explaining that this was my way of proving that I was genuinely on her side and wanted to help her overcome her past. She thanked me for trusting her enough to tell her who I really was. I then deleted the post and the photo without asking her to reciprocate with her own real identity.
Within a few days, Ariel began saying things like, “I’m going to be naughty tonight,” or “I’ve put on my sexiest Goth costume, and I’m going somewhere you wouldn’t approve.” I’d mentioned to someone else that although I prefer women with no makeup, if they’re going to paint their faces, the Goth look is what I like.
Ariel kept trying to steer our private conversations toward discussing the debauched secret life she lived, even though I told her that I didn’t want to be a part of that. It wasn’t hard to figure out what she did on her “naughty” nights, since she was a fan of the photographer E. J. Bellocq. I said I neither approved nor disapproved, because I didn’t know her. She’d get angry, tell me how much I hurt her with my indifference, apologize, and berate herself for not understanding boundaries and not respecting my wishes or sensibilities. Then she’d do it again.
After the third time it happened, I wrote, “Don’t you think we’ve both had enough? I just wanted to help you if I could. That’s all. Should I be punished or made fun of or taunted for that? Aren’t there more appropriate targets?”
“I am not a perfect person,” she answered. “I am not a good girl. I have never been. I will never act the way I am supposed to act because I have no idea what that is supposed to be.”
“Well, then let’s release each other. After I accepted that I could never be a husband or father, I never inflicted myself on anybody again. If you believe that you’re incapable of knowing how to act with someone who cares about you, then the only thing to do is to not inflict yourself on that person.”
After almost ten minutes, she wrote, “Okay.”
When there was no follow-up, I added, “In the end, our problems are our own. Nobody is under any obligation to be with us or stay with us if they can’t deal with our deficits. I’m sorry I can’t help you. All I can tell you is that loneliness is survivable. Make yourself as hard as steel. Become as self-sufficient as possible.”
Another long pause, and then, “I’ll do what you said. Bye.”
She didn’t post anything else. After an hour I left her with a quote from Charlotte’s Web.
I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
After that, she stalked me online for almost a year. Wherever I commented, she posted my name, address, phone number, and everything I’d told her about myself. She could always tell it was me, even though I used pseudonyms. Finally I swallowed my embarrassment and contacted the Webmaster of the site where Ariel and I had met. This person was able to find her IP address, which I used to identify her. I wrote her an e-mail, telling her I knew where she lived and worked, and it was time for her to lay off. If she didn’t, I’d call her parents and employer and tell them about her secret life.
After writing a shrill message of denial to the Webmaster, she stopped. Who was she? I have no idea.
But I never knew her. There was no relationship. It wasn’t real. That’s why the tsunami of hate I get on social media usually doesn’t get me down. The hate is real, but the haters aren’t. They’re assemblages created for the Internet.
Still, don’t feel bad about yourself if you have to leave. Social media can’t help being something of a mess.
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