I was recently called out on a social network by a woman I don’t know who has no clue who I am. It was over a man (isn’t it always?) who was “friends” with both of us. I’ve known “Bob” for 15 years and I’m friends with he and his wife in the real world. In addition to his regular full-time job, Bob is a part-time actor, mostly on a regional basis, but he’s been in enough stuff that he has “fans” (which cracks his wife and I up). That’s why this woman sent him a friend request. Because she’s a fan.

It started as a simple back and forth between Bob and I over what he’s got coming up for projects. Four posts in, the fan (let’s call her Alice) piped in. O.K., social networks are all about NETWORKING, right? Building relationships. So the conversation became a party line and it went back and forth innocently enough until Alice threw in something a bit provocative. Suddenly I’m getting a text from Bob saying, “WTF? What do I say to THAT?” To which I commented online, “I’m pretty sure his wife takes care of that already.” Alice was not amused and WHAP! Virtual bitch slap to the side of my head. The conversation rapidly grew nasty (on her end, not ours) and ended with her announcing “you may have won this time but next time, you won’t be so lucky”. Won? I didn’t even know I was playing the game. Bob has since blocked Alice and deleted all of her posts and I’m pretty sure somewhere in Pennsylvania, there’s an angry little woman who hates my guts.

Relationships. Are they so different in the virtual world? I get that Facebook and Twitter and blogs give us the opportunity to put ourselves out there and interact and engage with people we don’t get the chance to meet face to face. That’s why I participate. But aren’t there any rules in the virtual world? Courtesies? Boundaries? Or do we toss those out the window the minute we send that friend request or start following someone? We’re out there, they’re out there…maybe the gloves are off.

I approach these online relationships the same way I do the face-to-face ones. I seek out interesting, funny, creative, adventurous, thinking people, make that first contact (follow, friend, comment), develop a rapport, and see where it goes. I’m not in their face about it, I don’t comment on their EVERY post, and I sure don’t expect them to comment on everything I say or do. You don’t do that with your friends in the real world, do you?

But there are those among us who seem desperate for that level of attention. In the social network mosh pit, they’re the drunk chick in the middle of the room ripping off her shirt and flinging it over her head, shrieking, “Look at me! Look at me!” (I’ve got a true story post about something like that, better saved for another day). People who are so intent on building the relationship, that they grasp at any opportunity to be noticed. To be more than a face in the crowd.

I know a shrieker and honestly, this person is ticking me off. When they started liking and/or following some of the same people and things I do, I thought, “Great! Maybe I’m influencing someone to try something new.” When it became nearly everything and everyone I was expressing an interest in, I thought, “O.K., that seems sort of excessive and these things have never interested you before but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.” Then they began inserting themselves into one-on-one conversations I was having online and dropping my name to “friends” in an effort to get a response. When I got that first direct message asking “Do you really know this person? What’s their deal?“, that’s when I got pissed. “Get your own life!“ I wanted to scream. “Quit riding my relationship coattails, you leech!“ Then I wondered if I had a reason to be mad. The virtual world is open country; did I have a right to tell this person to get off my land? I don’t know but it’s still bugging me.

I like to think that all this online interaction is about exploring new ideas, sharing opinions, meeting new people, expanding our possibilities. If it’s really just a big battle for attention, for God’s sake, somebody set me straight. Because if that’s what it is, I’ve been hanging out in the locker room not knowing that my match has been called and I’m seconds away from a forfeit. I’m willing to come out swinging; shy and timid are not my words and I can pack a pretty mean punch if I have to. So tell me what the rules are, or if they even exist. Help me out here – we’re friends, aren’t we?

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this – I really enjoyed reading it. And even though I don’t know you, I feel blogging is a way to meet new people, so I comment. I don’t mind if people I know on this website talk to others I know, this is open land to me. But Facebook is different to me – Facebook is personal. I felt pretty upset when one of my friends started talking MY friends and family she never even met. I think the norms are different on every single website, and that’s what makes social networks tricky.
    Anyway, long story short, I really enjoyed reading this 🙂

    • I agree with the above comment. When blogging, it’s perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to “like” and comment to people who you don’t know in real life, and for the most part is not seen as a rude intrusion (until you get one of those rude commenters!) But Facebook, yeah. Facebook is personal, I agree. I had a similar situation as Isabella where this girl who worked in the same vicinity as my friends and myself. She started adding us one by one, commenting more and more about what we were doing, and then actually started showing up where we were at! Maybe it was our fault for sharing too much info, but really? It’s pretty awkward for someone to tag along when they weren’t invited and don’t really know you!

      Glad you set Alice straight 🙂

      • Creepy on the girl showing up where you were at and definitely awkward. Pretty ballsy of her. Yeah, Alice was something else. Bob’s wife pays a lot more attention to his fans now, I can tell you that much! Thanks as always for stopping by. BTW, I didn’t vote in your blog poll because I couldn’t pick just one thing. You just keep writing about whatever you want, girl…I’ll keep looking forward to reading it.

    • I’m with you on the Facebook issue, Isabella. Part of the reason I got on Facebook was to keep in touch with family and friends who don’t live close enough for me to see on a regular basis. I consider Twitter and my blog as a means to meet new people. Like you! Thanks for commenting.

  2. The online world is still a wild wild west of sorts. Precious few rules apply. Until abuses start and unwanted attention grows teeth.

    You have no way of knowing if she is a she or if she really lives in Pennsylvania, or anything. I would quickly block any unpleasant person. As life’s too short. But first copy everything you have on her. Any interaction. As should it ratchet up to further harassment you have a record as to when it started.

    Post something to alert everyone to not chat with “her/he/it.” Or at their own risk, at least. Some kind of disclaimer.

    These cyber bullies are people who have no power in the real world they swim in so they feel an inflated sense of self online. And it can be a heady experience.

    My stories with my sad cyber tag along can be quite different than yours. But the core of the cause will remain the same. And if I were profiling I would say that you are dealing with someone who is unwell.

    To disagree and make your pointed point in a snarky way is fun. To focus attention on you and to ferret out relationships with people you know repeatedly, after deciding she doesn’t like you, and not let it go is unstable.

    Sighing and speaking from experience, lo these many years.

    Kiersten Warren

    The upside is if it goes on for as long and as far as mine has (hopefully not) and you have the proof, you have grounds for a monster civil case. Should you wanna go there.

    • I doubt it will escalate to the level that you’re experiencing (although with unstable people, you never know, do you?) but it was definitely unsettling. And I’m not even a high-profile person like you are, which doesn’t make it right, either. Until you said it, I never even considered that she might not be who – or what – she said she was. I’ve actually dealt with some false impersonation situations through my full-time job so you’d think that would have crossed my mind. I’m usually savvier than that. Maybe it was just easier to imagine an angry little woman named Alice than a nameless, faceless whatever. Thanks for commenting – I knew you would have some good advice.

  3. I was going to apologize for being your obsessive media stalker and complain that you don’t love me like you used to, but I know better than to poke the pissed-off bear. So I won’t. Anyway, it’s a great post AND issue. I suppose none of us would be blogging, posting, commenting or tweeting if we didn’t want someone to notice and connect with us, but there are the nut jobs who take it WAY too far. That’s a “no” on the stripping and shrieking, then? Good to know.

    • Having been your roommate during those formative college years, I think we’ve already been through the stripping and shrieking thing, haven’t we? At least that’s what the photos I have from that period would seem to indicate. The bear is less pissed off now but I’m securing the den anyway. FYI, Tom has unfriended me on Facebook which I am relieved about because he was getting to the age where I could no longer keep his secrets from his mother…kidding, he’s being good, Mom. As far as I know…

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