I’ve been noticing this for a while now. Personal integrity calls to me for its understanding and alleviation. Namely, the ease with which I’m tempted to say things online that I would never say in person.
Anonymity is powerfully liberating since it provides the sense of a shield between me and the world. In fact, for several years I used pseudonyms under which I could be as opinionated as I wanted with virtually no fear of reprisal. Sure, the names I used could be attacked but not me. I could enter a conversation as a character and say almost anything, whether I actually believed it or not. The immediacy of online commentary meant I could satisfy each momentary reaction to a news headline or blogger. This allowed for responses without reflection or consideration of other people.
Needless to say, most of the conversations had in this way were little more than venting a momentary opinion which generally elicited an attack on my character’s, morals, intelligence, motivations etc. Hardly a conversation. Further, as I witnessed many exchanges like this between others, something started to feel very wrong.
Observing that people are nasty and hateful when insulated by the anonymity of social media is not new. But I started to sense a growing feeling within that was not pleasant and needed examination. In essence, it was the feeling of poisoning my inner being, call it soul, psyche, mind etc. It was the increasing sense of discomfort comprised partly of the actual exchanges with people, but also the background of dishonesty about it. To act as someone else was alienating the sense of my real self. I started to reflect on how the face to face conversations I was having. When compared to those online, I noticed that ease with which I could say things online that I would not say to someone’s face.
This incongruency was leaving me with a troubled soul. The trouble was inner agitation over violating one of the main virtues I hold valuable – honesty. I started to think about the contrast to how I am in person and could see that the online persona was bad for me since it could submerge my real personality in a fantasy. This was leaving me empty and dark.
I started to see the online conversations through a different lens. Namely, “what would I say if I was talking with this person face to face?” This changed everything. I prefer civil exchanges of views in which there is the chance that one or both of us can learn something new. I don’t enjoy unnecessary confrontations and will generally try to understand why someone thinks as they do. So it was time to apply this online.
I decided to apply the face to face criteria to all my online activity and closed all the accounts I had as characters. This has had some effects worth noting. First, I think about my responses before posting them. Second, I come away from conversations with a feeling of clear conscience and openness to learning. Lastly, my inner self is free of the poison of dishonesty which would’ve eaten away at my soul to the point of self-loathing.
Of course, some level of privacy is important to me as well. So I will use a pen name for online posting. But the criteria for simply being the same person online as I am in person remains the same. It frees the conscience and deepens one’s thinking.