“The internet is not where you hide – it’s where you are found.“–Emily Aston Perrin
I’ve been giving the advice found in the title of this post to student writers, and to friends, for over forty years. It’s advice I follow myself, as anyone who’s read more than a few of my posts (thank you) must know. And this post is no exception. Those of you who’ve been on Ricochet for a while, or who follow me, or one or two others, may believe you know what prompted my thoughts here. Good for you if that’s the case. But I’m not going to go into any more specifics or down any other rabbit holes than I present here, try as you may; I have a larger point to make which I hope will be helpful to some. So, Dear Reader, proceed at your own risk, and hold the chum, please. I’m writing what I know.
Some of us on Ricochet use pseudonyms, or what we sometimes call “Riconyms.” I’m one of those people. My Riconym was chosen with a bit of humor in mind (“She who must be obeyed”), but mainly because it’s so hard to Google and come up with anything meaningful. Search “Ricochet She” and see what I mean. I chose it not because I wanted to hide behind an impenetrable wall of unknowableness, but because I don’t choose to make it all that easy for people to type in my name and see my entire Internet oeuvre in one fell swoop. So far, it’s worked pretty well.
But within Ricochet, and in my posts and comments, whether they’re main-feeded or not, I’m not all that “private” about my personal details. I talk about my life. I talk about my family. Because they are what I know. I include, fairly often, links to family members and situations in my life that are not masked, and which identify me, and other family members, pretty clearly.
Some of you don’t do that. Some of you have Riconyms and never link to any IRL data. Some of you use your real names, and can be searched at will. I respect all of those decisions. As I ask you to respect mine.
I’ve never been all that worried about being “outed” or being doxxed. For Pete’s sake, I am a 64-year old grandmother with a chaotic personal life, and with arthritis and gray hair. I’ve lived, for the last 50-plus years, anyway, a rather unexceptional life. I think I’m a pretty cool lady, and I think I’m pretty decent to those in my family and those I love. And I think most of my family and friends would agree with me. My posts, although many of them speak to my personal circumstances, some of them joyful and some of them unfortunate, are neither scandalous nor particularly interesting to those bearing a grudge. And in my occasional “deep dives” into search engines to dig up dirt on myself and others in my life (a service I’ve performed a few times for friends, with mixed results in terms of their appreciation for same), I’ve never found very much. So, it’s all good.
But I’m mindful of the fact that, even on Ricochet, what I put on the site, even when it’s restricted to the member feed, is fair game for anyone to look at and look into. Posts and images that are “member feed only” can be copied and pasted, wholesale or in part, onto other websites (and they have been). Details that are readily available in links that I include in my posts can be searched, and my address, phone number and many other personal details can be easily located. I know that. And although I feel I’m among friends on this site, let’s be clear: I know very few of you IRL. Those of you I do know IRL, I learn more about by the day (as one does, with IRL friends); those of you I don’t, could be anyone or anything–as your persona presents here, or completely different. I just don’t know. I take you on faith, and in good faith. And that’s why I share as much as I do.
Twice on this site, I’ve been accused of “stalking” someone. The first time, the circumstances were so ludicrous and farcical that the allegation collapsed of its own weight. Barely worth mentioning, and that’s all the time I’ll give it.
The second time has been more far more serious and long-lasting, has crossed over to another website, and has involved allegations of freely offered sex and other hurtful accusations. I’m not going to dwell on them here either, and I won’t speak further to them in the comments.
What I am going to tell you, though, is that a reputation is a precious thing. And that when a person appears in your life who seems interested in taking yours down by spreading falsehoods about you, you have every right, and absolutely an obligation, to respond publicly and forcefully to protect yourself. You shouldn’t outsource that job to others. You shouldn’t say, “oh, well, these are anonymous allegations, nobody can trace them back to me.” Yes, they can. And sooner or later, if you don’t say something first, they will. And the fact that you’re behind a member paywall, or that your actual name has not been mentioned on the site will mean nothing. God forbid you ever want to apply for a job, and said prospective employer wants to sift through your social media profile to find out who you are–good luck with that, if you’ve let accusations of stalking and sexual predation go unchallenged. Or if you’ve made light of them when they’ve been aimed at others. Or anything else, for that matter.
When you are very sure that, yes, it is all about you, and you finally do speak up for yourself, and you call out the falsehoods for what they are, you should ignore the inevitable howls of outrage that you are ruining the perpetrator’s fun, that your statements are invalid because you’ve created a “he said, she said” situation, that you have no sense of humor (Accusations of borderline criminal behavior? Revealed confidential and intimate details of one’s married life? Yeah, those are really funny . . . lol. Way to go, anyone who thinks that’s the case), that you are taking it all much too seriously, and that it’s all in good fun.
And, when you have been as fair as you can, when you have asked the perpetrator to cease and desist multiple times, and when he or she has not, and when it is very clear to all concerned what the situation actually is, then you must turn the matter over to those who can do something substantial about it and let things take their course, no matter how hard that is to do when a dear friendship has died.
You only have one reputation. Value it. Keep it. Defend it. You’re worth it.
This is what I know. And what I write.