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Recent angst-ridden discussion about comments published on the internet have reminded me of a conclusion I reached when I was myself the subject of scurrilous anonymous comment: It can bloody hurt.  But some of the pain is, sadly, self-inflicted.

We’ve seen again and again how anonymity seems to loosen people’s grip on civility. Some of the foulest things are written by people hiding behind ‘handles’ … or bloggers who maintain a nom-de-plume or alter-ego/secret identity.

It’s natural to feel offended and hurt by what you perceive as ‘attacks’ from others. Somehow, that offence is multiplied when your accuser/libeler does it from behind a mask.

But here’s the thing I want to get to: Mostly, the rest of the world really doesn’t give a rat’s arse what other people, especially anonymous people, spit on you. Seriously.

As Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying (I always thought it was Oscar Wilde):

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Speaking from my own personal experience, I would sometimes feel wounded by reading misleading statements, abuse and innuendo published about me. Remember, Lemony Snickett’s distinction about reading bad news…

“It is much, much worse to receive bad news through the written word than by somebody simply telling you, and I’m sure you’ll understand why. When somebody simply tells you bad news, you hear it once, and that’s the end of it. But when bad news is written down, whether in a letter or a newspaper or on your arm in felt tip pen, each time you read it, you feel as if you are receiving the news again and again.

Lies and nasty comments published on internet forums would sometimes seem to ‘shriek’ at me. Demanding my attention, it seemed. I know from others the ‘Oh my, what are they saying now?’ thing can also be unsettling. (That aspect doesn’t worry me too much.)

But remember this:

It’s a big wide world boys and girls

Google search results notwithstanding, another layer of detritus is always being laid on the internet, like ash. If newspapers are tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, what does that make last year’s nasty comment buried in the compost of the comment stream of blog # 45,792,452 ?

You get to write your own history, or your own version of yourself on the web. Self-expression is the new black.

Also, I soon observed, other people didn’t seem to even notice the statements about me which might bother me so terribly (when I thought about them). Or if they did, they just weren’t struck by them, nor anything like as ‘outraged’ as I was. My own episodes of hypervigilance made it worse. For me!

People who knew me just dismissed such dreck for what it is.

As I said in ‘How to protect yourself from extortion: Er, live a ‘clean’ life‘, a certain amount of ‘derogatory comment’ shows you’ve been alive:

An American/Kiwi publisher I know, Andrew, once told me that people scoping him out as a prospective business associate were very happy to have found some ‘derog‘ (derogatory comment) about him on the internet. They said it was because that indicated he was a real person with a track record. (I’m sure they also looked at the content of the negative stuff and its source and made their own judgement.)

I have the same view. Some of the spittle-flecked bile and rubbish that’s been written about me by certain nobodies does me no harm whatsoever. Referring to a warm puddle of such comment, an erudite observer once commented that ‘some idiots will be fooled by this’. Nicely put.

Then, and now, I always asked people to consider the source. And ask me anything about it.

I have a few policies: (1) Confront criticism, even unworthy criticism, directly, (2) Put my own side of the story on the record, somewhere, (3) Try not to ramp it up by getting personal or inflammatory or abusive in response, (4) Walk away (disengage).

This, sums it up for me:

“I do not care so much what I am to others as I care what I am to myself.”
― Michel de Montaigne

– P