Over the last several weeks, several things have happened that started me thinking about internet drama. There was some speculation about one poster on a board I frequent actually being another poster using a different nick. That simple musing turned into a 200-post kefluffle. Shortly thereafter, a new troll/sockpuppet tried tossing flamebait in everyone's direction. I soon found myself under attack. The scathing comment that was supposed to send me screaming (or whimpering) into hiding? She called me frizzy haired. Frizzy haired!! Like, duuuude. Tell me something I don't know.
I ran across a meme that generated a "drama post", using real comments made by other posters but inserting names from the person's friendslist. It was pretty funny, but it also highlighted how totally silly almost all internet drama really is. Of course there is real drama out there - a cyber friend of mine was once the target of a very creepy cyber-stalker - but the majority of the time, it's basically 6th grade reenacted on a monitor.
I've spent the last 8 years or so hanging out on some of the toughest debate boards on the net. These boards have reputations, baby. They are not at all for the faint of heart. The topics are those issues that we hold most dear - our children, our parenting choices, our morals - the kinds of issues that many people define the very core of themselves.
Amazingly, I sometimes manage to rub people the wrong way on these boards. I know, I know...it seems almost impossible, but there it is. And as a result, I have been attacked in all sorts of ways. I've been accused of having no morals. I've been told I don't love my children. I've been called a poor Christian. And it all made me laugh. Because these things are coming from people who know nothing about me. These are people who warn me that my children are doomed to a miserable life of toothlessness because I let them have bottles past the age of two. These are people who feel sorry for my children because I work outside the home. These are people who think that they can predict the kinds of relationships my children will have as adults based on a casual debate about what snack foods I let them have at age six. Really.
Over the years, I've had a few favorites. I especially loved being called "maternally deficient". And there was the time I mentioned what I cooked for dinner and spent the next three days listening to a rant about my "ruined" steak and "gluey" mashed potatoes. I was called a child abuser for pointing out that an article someone posted supposedly exposing the horrors of corporal punishment didn't actually mention corporal punishment at all. I've been told I have the morals of a lawyer. I've been told I have "cheerleader hair". All by people who know nothing about me.
Now, don't get me wrong. Everyone on the internet isn't a stranger. I have met some amazing women on those very same debate boards, women whom I count among my very best friends. But these are not the women stirring the drama pot. I think of it like hanging out with other moms at the softball games. Some of them you chat with at the games, and they are friendly, and you share a few stories and a laugh or two and maybe even commiserate a bit and swap advice once in a while. But that's as far as it goes. But maybe there are one or two that share more than that. That you strike up a genuine friendship with. That are really there for you when you need them. Who see beyond the stories to the truth.
And if one of the first kind of gamebuddies goes from chatty to catty, you roll your eyes and wonder where she left her midol, and you shrug it off. Because she doesn't really know you at all. And if one of the second kind gets catty - well, that doesn't really happen, because that second kind is a friend. And the trick to the internet, like the trick to hanging out with the softball moms, is being able to tell the difference.