Our Online Personas

I'm not exactly an early adopter, but internet groups have been an important part of my life. In the days before Facebook and Twitter (remember those), I belonged to some online womens boards who were very important to me, and have led me to some of my closest friendships. Other friends came from the early days of Twitter, when it was a lot more about genuine conversation than a plethora of retweets.

As Facebook ascended, it became a vehicle I used more, and I've been part of some groups there that have been very important to me as well. Two of the most crucial ones to me have suffered some huge blows over the last month, blows that have really cut them off at the knees, and both have responded in very different ways.

In one case, the group literally lost all records of membership and is slowly rebuilding from the ground up. There's a lot of trauma in that, and in learning to share again. The mods are doing an incredible amount of heavy lifting in the rebuild. I have hope that it will have rewards, and an IRL gathering of those folks yesterday was a step in that.

In the other case, there was a controversial decision about the kinds of things that could be posted; without going into too much detail, it's an ongoing discussion about what is personal (allowed) vs. what is political (not allowed). This led to a mass exodus form that board, and an influx to another similar board. Though there were a lot of emotions flying, there was good that came out of it as well, and a lot of new energy in both cases.

The online personas that we manage are incredibly complex extensions of ourselves that we carefully create, personalities that in some ways exist outside of our own reality. In our personal profiles, we are prone to putting our best selves forward — our successes and triumphs, without necessarily sharing our failures and challenges. In online interactions, I think we  (myself included) have a tendency to hide behind our screens, to say things that we would never say to someone face to face — and then often to place blame as "Its hard to read tone in something written on the internet."

All of this is too new to make a lot of proclamations about. Who knows how long  a shelf life Facebook will have, or what the next things will be. But these recent implosions have reminded me that the most important things I can remember to say are "I'm sorry" and "I'm listening," both in real life and on the internets.


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