It’s funny when I think back on the first days of the Internet, for me. You see, that last part is really important because the “Internet” has been around a lot longer than most people think. The large, interconnection of nodes (or computers) began as a government project called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network)—eventually, as many things are, it was gobbled up by the Department of Defense and called DARPANET. That’s all the history I am going to give you, other than to tell you the first successful message was sent and delivered on October 29, 1969.
Most people think the invention/creation of the Internet to be much closer to the 21st century. Why? Well because that’s when more people began using it, and of course, we humans think that everything revolves around ourselves, individually.
Nice segue, right? I promise, this won’t be long and I will do my best not to rant.
If any of you read my blog on the great (super affordable) cover designer I happened across, you might remember I mentioned an email I was going to send to my writer “friends”. Now first, let’s agree that in this day and age, on the Internet, “friends” has taken on a whole new meaning. Internet friends, well, in most cases (if you’re like me), you actually know fewer than you’ve ever met face-to-face or talked to on a phone. Some you probably haven’t ever spoken to at all.
Another thing about this email I sent: the majority of recipients were writers who are hosted on my RABMAD (Read A Book, Make A Difference) page. I call it “mine” because it was my concept, I created the page, I pay for its hosting (going on four years now), and I manage it. For free. And at least 80% of the writers I included in my email were RABMAD authors, who I support daily, without charging them anything.
That said, even if a recipient was not a member of RABMAD, I explained how to join (free) and I also apologized for the intrusion, even though the entire email was for the writers’ benefit. This is critical: I sent this to help. Writers helping writers. That doesn’t mean any recipient was obligated in any way to even read my email, much less engage the cover artist I touted. And though the email had a (legally necessary) “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom, I explicitly asked that recipients not avail themselves of that option as this was very likely the only email they would ever receive from me and, if I did ever email somewhere out in the future, it would only be to share something else helpful to the writer.
It never occurred to me to ask recipients not to use the “Report Abuse” button. Not in a million years. Not only was the email not abusive, it was totally the opposite end of that spectrum.
It was helpful.
But REPORT ABUSE?
And therein lies the rub. Like drivers in cars, users of the Internet have become so accustomed to anonymity, and the “freedom” it affords them, that they don’t think twice about taking a dump on another human being. Had I known there were writer friends of mine capable of doing such a thing, I would have politely asked them not to do that because “abuse” is taken very seriously by the providers of my group email platform. In fact, by reporting abuse, this writer risks damaging my career and my income. The “pebble in the water” effect could go so far as to completely destroy my ability to converse with my readers, announce new books, and ultimately ruin me.
Not unlike someone who casually and anonymously labels someone in real life “an abuser”, when they really aren’t. Such indiscriminate use of terrible words, without a thought—on a mean-spirited whim—can brand someone for life.
Each day, like you I am sure, I receive literally dozens (if not hundreds) of spam emails. And I receive quite a few for which I don’t remember signing up. You know, from places on the Internet where I’ve purchased something online (usually the sender). And even though I don’t recall actually signing up, I am intelligent enough to realize that I did buy something from them, and it makes a certain amount of sense that they would email me once a month (or even more often) with specials, deals, etc.
And yes, many times those check boxes are pre-checked when you complete your transaction, slipped in (so to speak) by the vendor. But let’s take a look at that situation, and my options. Let’s say it was Best Buy, a very reputable company that does a great job of servicing their customers (I brought in an iPhone glass protector I bought online, not from them, and the guy working that area, since he is so good now at installing them, put mine on and charged me NOTHING).
So let’s just agree that Best Buy is a reputable company. Not an “enlarge your penis” or “send me your information so I can give you $2,000,000 American dolars [sic]” kind of “spammer”. But even though I LOVE Best Buy, I just get way too many emails from other reputable companies (AND the nasty, true spam mention above, which thankfully my spam filter normally picks up)—thing is, I don’t want to receive Best Buy’s emails any longer. I go to the bottom of the page and right in clear view is the “Unsubscribe” button. One click, no harm, no foul, and I never receive another unwanted email again.
But wait; there is another button!
Hey, if I choose, I can really f*ck this company over. If I am a grouchy, mean-spirited, a-hole, then I LOOOOOOVE “abuse buttons”! They give me so much power. Hell, if they had a “Stone them to Death” button, I would use it. I could be like God. I could choose who lives or dies.
Just as a Caesar of ROME!
The crowds would adore me.
The Internet offers anonymity and with that (and certain responses), yes, power. But just because you have power, doesn’t mean you should use it. It is up to your humanity and your higher intellect to be very careful and responsible with power. Do I really want to hurt these people—this person? Did they truly abuse me? Or did they but share with me a discovery where I, as a writer, could have a better book cover while at the same time saving some of my hard-earned money?
Yes, I get too many emails—some of them disgusting; some of them criminal. Yes, I am sick to death at my computer being infected with malware and viruses and JUNK. Abhorred at the money I have to spend for software products to keep my computer from completely falling apart or freezing up. I’m also tired of having to clean my website every day because some weinerless little imp hacked into my (no gain) website and, just to cause me more work and grief, actually abused me. Where is the button for THAT?
Just a click and this nice man will never email me again.
But I can also “Report Abuse”! I have that POWER. In my normal life, I have no power. But here, anonymously, in my dark little cave, I have true power. I can screw over this nice person. I can ruin them if I choose.
So do I? For what possible reason would I even consider it? I mean, if the button said “Report my bad mood” of “Report my not really feeling like getting or reading this email” or “I really don’t remember this writer”, then fine. If you have to go further than unsubscribing, do it.
But the term is ABUSE. And those who hold the real power—the power to destroy a writer’s ability to do his or her marketing (something YOU must do, too, if you want to sell any books)—take these reports of ABUSE very seriously. Just as in PUBLIC. Where you can’t hide and make your accusations. Where people think twice, three times, even four about reporting someone as “abusive” if they really AREN’T.
Anonymity has gone too far. The pendulum has swung. Yes, all those nagging Internet realities still exist—and are getting worse (malware, viruses, website hacks, malicious code). But you know what?
That’s not this. Even in a court of law, if a jury is hung, the prosecutor has the right to poll the jury and every single jury member MUST show how they voted. But does this person who reported “ABUSE” have to give their identity? Explain themselves? PROVE abuse?
No. From their anonymous perch, they can hurl complete bullsh*t.
BTW, so we are on the same page, here are some of the definitions of “abuse”:
“to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse.”
“to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.”
“to commit sexual assault upon.”
The irony is, the writer who reported the abuse is actually the abuser here. “To treat in a harmful, injurious way. To malign.“
Don’t be malicious, capricious, or injurious to your fellow humans.
Don’t take out your frustration with real abuse by accusing an innocent of the act.
And if you do get off on power, and injuring people, and being mean-spirited, then I hope you seek help. Because you are the one who is one-off. Not the other 169/172 that did not so much as unsubscribe, much less report abuse. Look at yourself in the mirror, think about what you did (and what you likely do to others each day in life), take responsibility, be accountable, and seek help.
Earlier I compared how people act when anonymous on the Internet with the way they act in cars (same perceived anonymity). They cut you off, drive to the front of a line and push in, flip you off, scream obscenities. Road rage, they call it. I employ a simple rule for these people (and yes, sometimes I am one of them—hence, the rule):
Imagine getting to the front of the store, each line is eight carts deep, and without a moment’s hesitation, you push your cart to the front of one of the lines and start pointing the nose of your “vehicle” in at the front. Imagine someone does something you don’t like, so you tail them down the baking aisle, right on their butts, yelling at them, flipping them off.
There is your yardstick.
Sorry, I tried to keep it short. I failed.
The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.