It’s Not a Second Life

“I like him,” my friend said as we sat in the airport. “When I visited him, we ate lunch, walked around the farm. He told me I was welcome to stay with him any time I was in town.” He paused, frowning. “But online…man, he is a totally different person. I can’t stand him.”

In the interest of courtesy I won’t say who he was talking about, but I agreed. In person the man we were discussing had been a teacher of mine, a friend, and a supporter. He had performed in variety shows I’d hosted, in fact. At a certain point a few years ago we had a difference of opinion, though, and suddenly he was calling me all sorts of names in public – and in private he was being downright nasty.

We simply didn’t interact for a couple of years, and then I saw him at a conference. I remember bracing myself, remembering the profanity he had put into our last private messages to each other…and instead he smiled and embraced me like an old friend.

That must be it, I had thought. We’re just friends who had a fight, and now it’s blown over and we’re friends again! I was relieved and happy, because I do like him – in person.

After that event, though, once again our views online diverged, and suddenly there he was calling me names again on public forums. What the heck? My friend at the airport had it nailed, though: it was simply a difference between the online and the offline persona.


Notice I didn’t say “online persona and real persona.” That’s a trap far too many people fall into – much like the mistake of thinking that we are interacting with our phones without realizing that we’re actually interacting with people thru our phones. If you write something online, it is still you.

I have another friend who had a quirky personality but often found himself alone at parties and such, very shy to actually go out and talk to people. At the same time he had an online persona that was sharp, witty, clever, entertaining, and intelligent.

Did he fake those characteristics? Of course not! Instead he became like Cyrano de Bergerac feeding lines through his keyboard to an online Christian wooing Roxane with the power of his words. Incidentally, he’s happily married and successful now – but while his shyness is long gone, his wit and intelligence remain.

At this stage in my life, I want people to view me as someone with integrity. There’s no integrity in anonymously lampooning someone simply because they pissed me off, and there’s certainly no integrity in using the Internet to shield me from the consequences of my actions. – Jessica Digiacinto

Similarly, I believe that if someone is nasty and rude online but polite in person it does not mean that they are “really” polite – it means they can put on a good show when faced with real and immediate consequences of rudeness (tears, anger, assault) but let their true opinions show when they believe themselves insulated from the effects of their words by the distance and anonymity afforded by the internet.

In other words, you don’t have two lives, one in “reality” and one on the web; the web is part of reality, too, and while you may show a different facet of your personality on the Facebooks and the Twitters and the Snapchats you really can’t pretend it’s not you.

Incidentally, that guy who’s lambasted me online? I finally asked him – publicly, online – to have a meal with me to talk about our differences. Perhaps that is what is the key to making sure our online presence is in sync with our higher self: acknowledging that it’s entirely possible that the person you’re writing about may be face to face with you sooner than you think.

So watch what you say.

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