Sunday, August 5, 2012

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

(Originally posted on Writers Who Kill blog)

Linda Rodriguez's Writers Who Kill blog a couple of weeks back on internet bullying got me considering once again the sage advice Thumper received in the movie Bambi. “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” This holds doubly true for the internet age where anything can and will go viral. Ben Franklin hit the bull’s-eye in the July 1735 issue of Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

Before written communication, for an uncomplimentary comment you made about one person to a second person to go further, one of you had to repeat what was said. By grade school you had learned how well keeping such a simple secret worked. Your best friend forever promised to keep your deepest secret, which was fine until your BFF got mad because you took the last goldfish from the bag and paid you back by sharing your secret with the person you dissed, either directly or through the insidious grapevine.

Worse, the something rather innocuous you may have said can morph into something more negative than you intended. As kids we played the game of telephone. You whispered something into the ear of one person who transmitted it to the next and so on until it came back around the circle to you transformed, sometimes beyond recognition.

Flash forward to the internet. Whatever you write in a blog, a post, an email may stay on a server for ever and ever, Alleluia! If it is public, as this blog is, anyone anywhere anytime can perform a search and find your comments. Ah, I only vent in private forums, you say. And what happens if the person upon whom you dished your best insults happens to later join that private forum and checks prior posts? Or it turns out that person’s second cousin twice removed also happens to be a member of the private forum. Or some “friend” agrees so strongly with what you said that he cuts and pastes your snarky gem and tweets it to the world.

Even something posted on a no longer extant website can stay alive. Websites exist to archive much of the web as it exists at a given point in time. My son demonstrated this to me by finding pages from an old website he and I developed while he was in high school. We abandoned that website some ten years ago.

With electronic communication, the world has shrunk and so has our ability to say something anonymously. As evidenced by the imbroglio at GoodReads described in Linda’s blog, people with certain skills can and will uncover the person behind a post and publish their real life vitals. One very selfish reason to be nice in this age of crazies is to protect yourself from them.

I remember a colleague who would always go out of his way to put down the company he had previously worked for. He’d badmouth their bosses, his former co-workers, their business practices. No matter what endeavor you engage in, the chances of something nasty you said or wrote about one person coming back to bite you are larger than ever. This person’s comeuppance occurred when his former company bought his current company. He was soon unemployed. This is an extreme example, but consider the ramifications of long ago forgotten posts or unflattering pictures unearthed by a company checking your web presence while considering you for a new job.

Before you think I am self-nominating for halo status, I want to fess up to occasionally getting sufficiently angry at someone or something to want to tell the world exactly what I think.

I may even write a wonderful gem that skewers the jerk with my perfect use of wit, comparative analogies, similes and a touch of sarcasm. I write on my personal computer, never on a work computer. Should my blast take the form of an email, I never fill in an address.

I have witnessed too many mea culpas for emails drafted and unintentionally sent—or unintentionally copied to the immediate world. I remember a particularly lusty email one person sent to a co-worker (and all 30,000 people in the corporation) as an egregious example of what can go wrong.

So what about you? Do you have any funny, interesting or cautionary tales to share?

~ Jim 

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