Public Shaming

It had been percolating, bubbling away in the back of my mind. I knew something wasn’t right about what I’d written, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was a mild sense of unease. Most of my writing disappears from my mind within days (sometimes hours) of pushing the publish button, but this one stayed with me. This one wasn’t going away.

I’d initially read a piece on a website and responded. I’d read it on my phone while walking through a mall. The way it was presented on my screen meant that it wasn’t obvious who the author was – it was one of those generic expat websites. What I did know was that I disagreed with the article. I put something together when I got back to my desk, a response, I then found the link, and pushed publish. Done.

The reaction was instant. Others felt the same way. The piece was shared, commented on, and made the usual rounds – but then something didn’t feel right. The website in question wrote a comment on their Facebook page, I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like “I hope you realize I didn’t write it.”

It was only then that I thought about the author. I wondered how they felt being distanced from the very site who’d hosted their article. I’d disagreed with him/her on my own, but now we were a pack. A group, and some of us were angry.

I spoke to a friend about it, told him I was feeling uneasy. Was I an online bully?

“No way! When you write something on the internet you’ve put it out there for people to disagree with. You should expect it. You had your opinion, they had theirs. That’s how it works. Don’t over-think it.”

And then came the Jon Ronson moment. The very last sentence of his talk at Blogfest stayed with me all day. I took it to bed that evening, sat with it in a cab to the train station, and carried it home with me to Qatar. It’s not that black and white. The thoughts that percolate never are.

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