July 9, 2015

Keep Personal Correspondence Out Of The Public Arena - A Very Unpopular Argument

Yesterday I got into a discussion/debate with a number of commenters about a recent post in which a woman shared correspondence between her and a man she met on Tinder. The man wrote her a detailed email explaining that whilst he very much liked her, he wasn't attracted to her body because it was fat. The woman responded to him in her blog in an angry message explaining why he could kiss her arse.

I think (believe, know) the woman had every right to respond with whichever words she chose to the man in question. What alarms me is that she chose to do it publicly.

The woman is not alone. Recently Em Rusciano, a columnist I greatly admire and like personally, published a column about an awful man on Tinder who body shamed a potential date. Again, the correspondence was shared.

And Em is also not alone. This is a huge trend in social media at the moment. When people receive private correspondence that they do not like, or find hurtful or abusive, they share it online. And I'm not stupid. I understand the reasoning. There is an intense desire to shame the person involved, to expose them for the nasty piece of work they are. And there is an empowerment in shaming someone who has hurt you. It feels good to get it out in the open, and receive approbation and affirmation from countless strangers.

But that doesn't make it right. I don't believe it is okay to share personal correspondence online.

For one thing, we all make mistakes. We all hurt people. No, we are not all arseholes, but even arseholes are not arseholes all the time. If you feel it is okay to shame someone else, then you have to be prepared to be shamed yourself. And how would you feel if your own personal correspondence was shared? If you were nasty to a lover, or friend, in an unwise, unguarded moment, and they shared your text or email with the entire world?

And if you answer "I wouldn't care, because I wouldn't do that, and if I did I would deserve it," then ask yourself carefully: have you really never written anything of which you have been ashamed? Have you really never made fun of someone behind their back, or shot off an angry text, or been cruel? Have you really never done anything to which someone else could take offence?


And even if you answer no, think about this. Do we want a world where people jump online every time they are disgruntled? Where we no longer deal with personal issues between ourselves, but take them into the public arena for the world to referee? We try to teach our children to work through their differences without running to their parents or teachers, and yet what are we teaching them by racing to the internet every time when we have a dispute with another person?

If a person offends you, deal with them. Tell them how you feel. And if they continue to upset you, block them. Delete their messages. When you block someone they don't exist anymore. They are gone. It is a very powerful tool.

And obviously if they are threatening or harassing you, go to the police. Take out a restraining order. Threaten them with legal action. If a person is dangerous, you're certainly not going to protect yourself by shaming them publicly.

There are undoubtedly some situations in which disclosure is in the best interests of the public, for example when they involve authority figures or criminal activities or threats to public safety. But to have 'running to social media' as the default position for issues between two individuals creates all sorts of problems. We will become a society in which the morality is held externally, in the Greek chorus of the online world. And we will lose our personal resilience, to be able to deal with interpersonal difficulties without the assistance and intervention of a thousand strangers.

I know most people will disagree with me. But you can also rest assured that any personal correspondence sent to me will remain private. And I bet that even those who disagree with me will find that
reassuring.

33 comments:

  1. I'm with you, Kerri...


    I think any correspondence or communication between two individuals should be considered private unless both parties agree to its publication...

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  2. Agree. Agree. Agree.

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  3. Lana (Sharpest Pencil)July 9, 2015 at 12:38 PM

    a billion times yes. Now make this into flyers and let them rain down on humanity

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  4. I 100% agree with you. But I also abide by the rule that I will never put something into writing (and I'm talking even SMS!) that I would be ashamed to see go viral. Says something about our world today doesn't it?!

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  5. With you here. x

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  6. Yes I agree. It can be tempting sometimes to out someone or shame them ... but it's not right. It's private and should remain so.

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  7. Interesting but that guy was such an arse. What he wrote was most womens' nightmare BUT...
    I did have an experience with a person who said I was going to "write what a bitch" she was on my blog. It never occurred to me to be honest. Maybe it is my training in defamation law but I never would so I blocked her because she was stalking me everywhere, even on Goodreads!
    Anyway I hope this isn't too rambling. I just went to Westfield after 1.5 years out of the country and it was a spinner!

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  8. I'm skeptical when I see a blogger do this. I wonder if the person they are shaming actually exists and/or actually did what was claimed to do. And I say this as a blogger myself.

    All bloggers are looking for and hoping for that thing, positive or negative in their life to write about with the hope of it going viral. I'm not suggesting that all are made up, but when you consider that there have been a spate of bloggers claiming something happened only for it to be found out that the trolled comment came from a fake account from their own ISP, it pays to be weary.

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  9. I agree with this in part, but I've published nasty messages (two in total) that have been sent to me by trolls. They were anonymous and disgusting and I didn't like that they thought they could get away with it if they just sent me a private email or message. I published them to say "you don't get to harass me privately, you can do it out in the open and I can laugh at your spelling errors and ridiculous assertions" - I don't really regret it.


    I wouldn't do it with a message from someone I personally knew or had met.

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  10. Absolutely agree. I would hate to say something stupid one time and then have it splashed everywhere. Although I do try not to say stupid things, it does happen occassionally.

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  11. This is very thought provoking. I think the key is the fact that the correspondence (no matter how awful) was private to begin with. While, as a voyeuristic audience scrolling through social media we might see it and think "OH HELL YES. YOU TELL THAT PERSON WHERE TO STICK THEIR MESSAGES" it isn't a way of dealing with things that we should be subscribing to.
    I think that perhaps it could be better to shame offensive behaviour in a general blog post, rather than exposing a person in a very personal way, word for word (often with name and photo included).
    In saying that, there are probably exceptions, but it shouldn't be the rule. Not by a long shot.

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  12. Interesting point of view. I think perhaps because the person was choosing to be anonymous and not own their behaviour anyway, it's a slightly different situation? I do hear your point xx

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  13. I think similar to Kelly - I am hesitant to put anything in writing that I wouldn't feel ok being disseminated widely (and as a result, it probably doesn't spread anywhere). The only exception would be writing something personal to someone I know very well and trust not to share (so, definitely not someone I've never met in person, but only commenting through social media). I've seen too many examples in a work situation, especially working in urban planning and when I worked for state government - throw away lines that get conflated into huge issues. So I think the responsibility lies with both the person writing in the first instance, and the one choosing to share. Don't do it, in any circumstances, unless you are prepared to brave the potential ramifications.

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  14. In general, I absolutely agree. I can't imagine what would compel me to go there but then again, I've never been on the receiving end of a nasty PM. But people who have relationships turn sour humiliating their ex in a public forum is god awful. Not so far from sharing sex tapes/nude photos without consent. It is a dangerous time to get on the wrong side of someone!


    But the recent bullshit that Clem Ford was dealing with (and will probably always deal with as an opinionated woman in the media) on Facebook gives me pause. It still shocks me that there are men who find intelligent women so threatening - and the way they go for her would make me pack up my social media accounts and go home. To cry and cry and cry. But Clem fought back by naming and shaming - how can I say she was wrong? By doing so, she shone a light on misogyny which is alive and scarily well in 2015.

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  15. Agree it should be kept private...but there is no onus on the receiver to keep it private. Just trust. Like Sawhole, I think I've spent too many years working in Corporate Comms when I always assume that whatever I write could (and most times does) go external.

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  16. Oh I know there's no onus on the receiver. I just wish there was.

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  17. Didn't Clem try to report it to Facebook first and they suspended her account instead of the dudes? I think that's what compelled her to go public...

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  18. It's a good post and totally get what you are saying. I think that sometimes people abuse the trust between the two parties as a way of pushing the nastiness. So in those cases perhaps it does pay to make it public? Not black and white really...

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  19. Yes, I know (I've also read the Jon Ronson book too, which includes those sorts of instances) - but have seen it in the work place, relating to things people have said which spread like wildfire. It's such a shame, because it breeds a real paranoia (plus much less effective relationships if you are not openly sharing) - plus, we all slip up from time to time. However, saying something is one thing - writing is another step (or it used to be - putting it down in words used to allow opportunity to pause and think first, maybe not so much nowadays given how quickly we can express ourself in writing).

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  20. I know the post you speak of - and what strikes me is that if you actually approach this completely objectively, the guy has been crucified for being honest about his own, personal sexual preferences. He wasn't horribly cruel about it - he acknowledged the things he liked about the woman, then put the onus back on himself (his fear of non-performance). If this guy had written exactly the same communication, in exactly the same way, with exactly the same words, except stated his sexual preference was for a woman *with* a bit more weight, or for other men, or that he had a foot fetish her feet did not inspire, or just about any other sort of specific sexual turn on that he was unable to, ahem, "perform", without it being met, there's no way it would be garnering this sort of attention. It is purely because there are so many people out there prepared to scream outrage at the mere suggestion that they are overweight that it has morphed into what it is. The simple fact is everyone has a different turn ons and different preferences for lovers - whether they honestly state them or not, they are there. The biggest mistake this guy made was being completely honest about his.

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  21. OMG @Lisa Jensen you have expressed EXACTLY what I was thinking but decided to keep for a different post. EXACTLY. And so well. He is allowed to not be turned on by bigger women, just as I am allowed to not be turned on by particular male body types. And yes, if it was about anything else no-one would blink. But overweight is such a feminist issue that people become enraged about it. I know many women who wouldn't dream of dating an obese man, or a very short man (I've dated both!), or bald/hairy/WHATEVER men, and that is okay. We are allowed our preferences. I mean, Tinder is about looks! God, I could go on and on. Thank you for articulating it so well. x

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  22. Lana (Sharpest Pencil)July 9, 2015 at 6:02 PM

    PERFECTION!

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  23. I do wonder - perhaps cynically - whether this is the 'new' version of suing someone for libel, an updated version of the "I'll see you in court" statement of those wishing to deflect responsibility for their own actions, without the onus of legal expenditure or engagement (for the time being, at least).
    And I agree, btw, with THINKING before SENDING anything. You learn from your own errors, and with age, and experience, and all that goes with it. Those in glass houses...


    Great post Kerri, as ever.


    LCM x

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  24. Yep, that's what I was going to say, Lisa. Pretty sure Clem and many of her readers reported, to no avail. Facebook is notoriously hopeless at policing hate speech etc.

    But for sure, slippery slope.

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  25. My mother went further and told me to never put anything in writing that you wouldn't want shared. Always tell people that stuff face to face. It works both ways because not only can people not re-post your words, but it makes you man up and think carefully before you speak, xx

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  26. I think in some cases, like Clem's, it's a kind of 'whistleblowing' which I think needs to happen. To show people what their hurtful comments look like in the harsh light of day.

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  27. I agree - nailed it again. I heard a great saying today - "You can't erase something from the internet, it's like trying to take wee out of a swimming pool." x

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  28. I came down to the comments section prepared to defend you to the hilt, but it seems like most commenters here feel the same way I do. People sometimes say stupid things that they later regret. I dread to think what sort of drunken nonsense lies lurking in a folder with my name on it in someone else's email account. Whatever idiotic thing I wrote, I hope it's never discovered. Death by ten thousand tweets is not a nice way to go.

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  29. You don't have to, but you might be interested in reading this I wrote back in May about this very topic.
    http://modernfatheronline.com/2015/05/26/why-would-a-blogger-create-a-fake-story/

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