Plain Speaking

Some More Pointers for 21st-Century Internet Etiquette: In Vino Veritas

I’m putting the disclaimer right up front on this one.  And here it is.

Proceed at your own risk:

Over the past thirteen years, I’ve found friendship, society, community, and even love, in my fairly limited and always rather discreet online activities.  Almost one-hundred percent of them have been totally worth it, and have sustained me through some very difficult times in my life.  I’m grateful to all those of you who’ve been there for me.  You know who you are.

Thank you.

A very few of my online acquaintances chose–for reasons of their own–to go in a different direction.  While I’d never suggest that people seeking meaningful online relationships are always doomed to disappointment, failure, and entanglements with the disturbed, I do advise caution when you’re not sure who else is involved.  Because–seriously–you never know who else might be on the hook. And while you might find yourself able to shrug off the nastiness, others–the innocent and the uninvolved–might not be so lucky.

This post is for them: the innocent, the uninvolved, and–even–the unlucky.  Whether or not I’m one of them myself, I leave up to you to judge:

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on the inadvisability of taking for granted one’s right to post identifiable human images on the Internet (public figures excepted, of course).  Apparently, some folks believe that–if it’s an image of themselves–it’s perfectly OK to post it, no matter who took the photo, and a small percentage of those same folks believe that it’s perfectly OK–having posted the photo without the owner’s permission–to trash the owner to make a personal point which has nothing to do with the photograph itself.

In reality, though, it’s a little more complicated than that.

The person who owns (in most cases this means “took”, or at the least upon whose camera it appears) the photo owns the right to distribute it, unless, in certain circumstances– such as if the photo was taken of a minor person within the European Union–he does not.

Those who disrespect copyright online deserve pretty short shrift when it comes to excuses, as do those who disrespect persons IRL.  And those who make a habit of publishing their previously unpublished photos of private individuals without their knowledge or permission, deserve scorn.

Nevertheless, perhaps most of us might not much care if a long-forgotten acquaintance posts–say–a ten-year-old, perfectly decent, candid photo of ourselves in–say–La Ville Lumière without our permission, although the accompanying remark implying something of a one-night stand might be better off left unsaid.  Or if any other such generally witless but fairly harmless posts which include images of current and former friends, or sexy girlfriends, who haven’t given permission to post them, suddenly appear. After all, we don’t all have fully-functioning decency genes; and there are apparently some who like to titillate, shock, exploit, and show off–at others’ expense–for their audience, no matter how vanishingly small that audience might be.

However, when such postings cross the line into what’s known today as “revenge porn,” or when the motives of the poster are the obvious and vengeful destruction of the target or of the photographer, all bets are off.  Let the legal chips fall where they may.

In the meantime, don’t share questionable or compromising digital images of yourself anywhere, with anyone.  Ever. Limit the sharing of even unexceptional image content online to only that which you know will never come back to bite you.  And always assume that any digital image you post, anywhere, can come back to bite you–RWKJ’s advice for keeping yourself whole on the Internet, Part I

Now, let’s move on from the visual to the textual:

As many of you know, I’ve been a member of a site called Ricochet for upwards of thirteen years.

Ricochet is particularly nice because it encompasses both a member (behind the paywall) site, and one which shows itself as fully-Internet facing and available to all.  All posts generated by Ricochet members start out on the member site (which we like to think is “private,” and accessible to members only), and–if recommended by enough fellow members–those posts may be promoted to the main (public) site, unless the member explicitly asks that it not be, or unless the editors deem that the post is unsuitable for such promotion.  In those two latter cases, the post remains behind the paywall, on the “private” site.

One of the things that I always believed about Ricochet, and about my fellow members was that I–and they–recognized, and would observe and respect the difference.  That the private, versus the public sides of the site would be honored.  That the things that we talked about behind the paywall and off the public Internet, and the posts that we (as the authors, the editors,  and as a personal choice) elected to keep there, would stay there.  As in “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” so did I think that Ricochet members, and even ex-members, would take care of each other in observing the distinction between the private and the public feeds.

I didn’t believe that even my former friends could be so awful as to ignore and trample that distinction.  I did not believe that they would take my words, and those of others, posted in a “private” setting, and–without our permission–publish them Internet-wide.

Boy, howdy, was I wrong.  They really are that awful.

What I’ve discovered over the past several years is that there are a (very) few former members of Ricochet who make no bones about exposing on the public Internet–via screenshot, cut-and-paste, or narrative discussion among themselves–information they’ve collected from the Ricochet member site.  The behind-the-paywall site. The members’ site.  The “private” site.

Their reasons for doing so don’t really matter here. What matters is what I have learned from observing their squalid and distasteful antics.  And what I have learned is this:

  1. They disrespect the people they once claimed as friends, and they violate the trust placed in them by exposing “private” conversations on the public Internet.
  2. They have no compunction about revealing the IRL names of members who use their real names, even though they’re publishing information that was assumed to be private without the consent of those who own that information.
  3. They’re not even careful.  They cut-and-paste portions of posts and comments that sometimes misattribute comments to the wrong member, making it appear that he said something he did not.  (This is particularly egregious when it happens to a person using his IRL name.)
  4. Even their screenshots can’t be trusted.  They are truncated arbitrarily and in inauspicious ways so that they do not tell the whole story or include the whole context (which is often the opposite of that stated).  Sometimes, because of the way they are cropped, even the screenshots attribute comments to the wrong person.
  5. Because so much of what they remember, and so much of what they think they are presenting as evidence, represents neither the totality nor the reality of the events in question, any subsequent discussion is deeply flawed and “economical with the truth.”

What an appalling betrayal of trust.

To my former friends, whose good intentions and good will I believed in and trusted myself for far too long, I say simply–you have disgraced yourselves yet again.

To all others, I say simply–please accept this cautionary advice:

Do not write, or post anything, anywhere on the Internet other than with the expectation that one day it may be linked to, screenshot, copied, pasted, or otherwise incorporated, with no context, or false context, into something, somewhere, that may be used in an attempt to intimidate, defame, traduce, or destroy, either you or the site upon which you originally posted it.  This includes material from “behind the paywall.” While you may have viewed such a place as a private ‘safe space’ in which to speak your mind, in the hands of the disloyal, the vindictive, the grudge-bearing and the vengeful, it is anything butRWKJ’s advice for keeping yourself whole on the Internet, Part II

Caveat emptor.  I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up:

Caveat emptor (/ˈɛmptɔːr/; from caveat, “may he/she beware”, a subjunctive form of cavēre, “to beware” + ēmptor, “buyer”) is Latin for “Let the buyer beware”.[1] It has become a proverb in English.

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