If you search Facebook for my name in April 2017, you’ll find a post saying “So glad you were born!!” and a post with the title at the top of this entry. The former is somebody with my name writing to somebody else; the latter is somebody else writing about me.
The comments to the one about me are instructive. One reports where I am at a particular time, and another speculates about my children. One asserts that I did something with the town budget that I did not do (and do not have power to do) and uses language that parents (or grandparents) of young children shouldn’t use on Facebook when younger folks are their “friends.” Another suggests that it should cost my children more to be on local sports teams because of my political activities.
If you’re at all Internet savvy and interested, you can find this thread, but I’m not going to name the commenters. After all, they’re just folks who think they’re engaging in local banter, and they probably don’t mean anything more than might be intended after a drink at a neighbor’s BBQ. Of course, the playing field is a little different for me, because a search for my name will definitely bring up what these people say, but that’s the nature of my business and (unfortunately) my local activities.
What I’m saying is that I accepted that risk in advance, as a condition of my decision to do what I do. Someday, when my children search the Internet for some sense of their father, I’ll have known in advance that I have to ensure that they can balance the good with the bad. That doesn’t mean that I should ensure that any Internet search for my attackers’ names will bring up a record of their casual behavior.
But. I bring this all up based on this interesting comment on another Facebook page:
[This essay criticizing Justin Katz] was sent to me privately and the author is fearful of being attacked on Katz’s statewide blog like everyone else who challenges him, but gave me permission to share. I felt the points were valid regardless.
By “attacked,” the writer means that I’ve responded to people when they’ve published outrageous things about me. “Responded” means I’ve accurately quoted what they’ve said and argued why they’re wrong or shouldn’t have said it. (I know. I’m a beast.)
I’ll acknowledge that these folks have a different view of things, but from my perspective, it seems to me that what these anonymous writers really want is the ability to say nasty things about me in a relatively limited forum consisting mainly of their friends (and people who interact with my children). They’re cowards who want to be able to spread rumors about their neighbors but don’t want to stand by their words when their neighbors actually have a platform from which to call them out.
It’s one thing to say that I’m just like Stalin to a small group of people with whom you’re comfortable. It’s another thing if it is searchable on the Internet for all eternity that you’re the kind of person who compares your neighbors to murderous dictators.
The real problem, here, is that people who aren’t as… well… nuts as I am will avoid getting involved in community debates if this is the price. The only way to make that not the price is broad and vocal agreement about what is acceptable behavior in a community. For my part, I’m out there. Anybody who really wants to understand my thinking need only open an Internet browser. Others who aren’t quite that engaged can take small stands (by which I mean, basically, being reasonable) to keep civilization on track and, of course, not saying things that you’re not willing to put your name on.