The Internet can be a strange and aggravating place. Part of expat life that I had not really anticipated is spending time with and communicating with people that I wouldn't give the time of day "back home." Both IRL and online I find myself thinking, "What am I doing here? I don't even like this person/these people."
As a newly (well, 5 months) pregnant expat, I have found myself the member of a number of online groups for expectant mothers. Add to this a number of Fill-in-the-blank Women's Expat Group's which I have joined in the last year and half, since my move to Istanbul and I am regular internet joiner these days.
The most common posts in these groups fall into a few categories-
Let me google that for you:
Example 1: What time does XX bank close? (on a normal day)
Example 2: How much are tickets to XX concert or museum?
Who are you people?/What is wrong with you?/I just can't:
Example 1: I asked 5 doctors and they all said that having Non Alcoholic beer was OK for pregnant ladies. But yesterday I had 2 small sips and now I am freaking out!...HELP!!!
Example 2: Since I can't have any caffeine (it kills your baby!) I switched to drinking decaf coffee as soon as we started trying. But just yesterday I saw on the news about how they use CHEMICALS to make it!! OMG, what should I do?
Out and out fear mongering:
Example: I'm pretty sure I just heard a bomb go off in XX.
Update from a sane person: Turns out it was just a boom noise from construction in the area.
Example 1: Check out this link to my amazing handmade XX which I make from garbage. Some of the proceeds go to a good cause.
Example 2: Hey ladies, need some help getting your stuff together in your new home? I'm a life-coach, job-coach, professional organizer and yoga instructor. I can come to your home and give you a free 5 minute session. I have tons of satisfied customers in our group (see comments!) TIA
And, finally, you're doing it wrong:
Example 1: I think my sister's neighbor's child is being sexually abused at preschool because I saw a teacher tickling him. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I think she should take her child out of school immediately and also report the teacher right away.
Example 2: I hate my mother-in-law. I told my husband I won't see her anymore - right ladies?
In times like this, I fall back on THINK (most of the time) and refrain from commenting AT ALL on these posts. It's true sometimes I work something a few shades less than "Kind" in to a reply which is definitely "Helpful." You're welcome, I am a wealth of knowledge. I also have to remind myself why I'm in the group to begin with. This is a hive mind, a group of people who are dealing with the same set of circumstances that I am. I want their knowledge, the best of it. I want their experience, their been there done that stories. I love me a good hidden gem - a good restaurant/museum/library post. Great book to read, or sale at a local shop. We can ask each other tax and citizenship advice we can share short cuts and tips for getting around and learning the language. For me, this is where the value lies, but to get it I have to wade through SO MUCH SHIT. And there are days when I am just not up for it. Herein the beauty of the internet - You can just look away.
It made me wonder: Are there groups on the internet where there are no trolls? Even my own facebook wall is occasionally assaulted by one. I have a strict one-strike policy for blocking. However, I have been known to give the over 65's a "single pass" for sexism and racism. If they haven't unfriended me after I publicly check them, they can stay! Until the next time, that is. One Strike.
I realize what a problem it is (especially for older people) to get a grasp on the internet fundamentals. My own sister, who is not much older than me, still somehow missed some of these internet best practices.
Not long ago, she posted an anti-gun violence article to her wall. I replied in the affirmative with a recent statistic. I then replied with a link and a bit of cheeky sarcasm to a gun-nut who replied to the post after I had. This was my mistake, I admit. Never, ever feed the trolls! His multiple, rapid replies were long and ranting. They were vaguely threatening and very insulting to me personally (though we have never met, of course). He was a sexist, ageist, racist and Christian.
Before I blocked the man, I could see that my sister replied to the thread with some form of 'Let's be nice to each other.'
I called her. She was a bit shaken by this guys craziness.
"You should just delete this post." I told her, "It turned ugly really fast. Also, who is this guy?"
"Oh," she defended him, "I know him from college, he's sort of a hick. Really smart though. I don't think he knew you were my sister."
"I can't believe he would talk to any stranger like that, especially on your wall, you are the most inoffensive fb user ever...If you're not friends with this guy, you should get rid of him. He's abusive and he was just really inappropriate and abusive to me.
"Yeah, well, I may run into him again at some point."
"How? You live over a thousand miles apart. Also, who cares?"
"Well, what if he asks me why I unfriended him?"
"Just laugh it off. What is this 7th grade? Tell him you can be friends IRL. Tell him he was a bigot and creep online. Tell him you unfriend people who viciously insult your immediate family members. WHO CARES?"
"Well, it just seems extreme. I mean, I don't want to make him mad. He obviously has guns."
Prompting me to send the following text to my friend.
In light of all of this unfriending/blocking I had a friend ask me if I was just creating an echo chamber for myself, a good question! I told him that in a way, I was. For me, I want my private fb wall to be like hanging out with a group of people who I would want to hang out with IRL, have a coffee and shoot the shit with. The rest of my life, both on and off line, is not an echo chamber. This is my digital living room. We don't need to agree, but we need to keep it respectful and sometimes that means keeping it lite! If you're not just being an idiot, I'll debate you IRL or banter with you on twitter, but leave that back and forth off my fb wall, please.
The thing is, there are people out there who you're just not gonna like and being in an online group with them exposes you to them, usually in small doses. For me, I do a cost benefit analysis. I am constantly reevaluating my need to be exposed to nonsense with what I hope to be getting out of it. For now, I'm still a (pretty) silent member of a number of groups. Even if I don't want to be friends, we can benefit from our varied knowledge. Also, let's try to stay on topic, shall we?