The Problem With Ranting Online

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This poor guy who lost it on an ambulance driver hasn’t learnt anything from history yet. When will we ever learn: your social media account is not private.

Our friends Anton Casey, Aaron Jeremiejczy and Amy Cheong will swear to you it is not a good idea to say what you want on the internet.

Having done it herself, our writer Sabina Fernandez isn’t so sure it’s a good idea.

 

Someone driving recklessly? Video them in action and display their license plate on YouTube for all to see. Innocent victim in a drunken brawl? Post the culprit’s photo and full name on instagram. Got bad service at a restaurant? Then go rant and rave on their Facebook page! That’s what the interwebs are for no?

And then today we have a property salesman ranting about an innocent ambulance.

These are just some examples of people feeling victimised and seeking justice online. Sites like Stomp and The Real Singapore practically exist for this purpose. While it seems harmless enough, especially when one party is truly “in the wrong”. I’ve found myself really grappling with the practice of taking your unhappiness online.

You see, I’ve done it myself.

I’m not proud of it, but before “social media” was a thing I once flamed a cheating ex-boyfriend online. The circumstances of the cheating were pretty awful. But that didn’t make my rant on my Friendster blog (this was 2005) okay. Here’s a tip: Hell hath no fury like a writer scorned.

 

 

When I published that post, I was seething with rage. Looking back, the way I handled that situation was shocking. I could try to rationalise that I wanted to protect other girls from his lies. But if I get very honest with myself, my intention was not so noble. Instead of sitting and dealing with my pain, I struck out and hurt him back. That’s the thing about naming & shaming online, it just continues the cycle of nastiness, instead of stopping it in its tracks.

The ensuing fallout was epic. Everybody took sides. The blog post went viral. People I didn’t know began weighing in, strangers were looking at me funny. Many friends, especially those who’d been cheated on, said: “You go girl. He deserved it.” They felt I’d spoken up for them and tackled the injustice of every manipulative a**hole out there. Others called the move (quite rightly) immature and cruel.

Yes, what he did was wrong. But airing very dirty laundry in the most public sphere of all was not cool. Karma was not mine to give back. That experience, terrible though it was for everyone involved, taught me that:

Personal grievances should be kept offline. Even if people pick up their pickets and join you in protest, you still have to question the right and wrong of it. Their support doesn’t make it okay.

Fast forward to eight years later, and I applied this valuable lesson when I was confronted with yet another cheaterbug. (Are there a lot of them out there or do I just have a knack for finding them?! Possibly a bit of both…) It would have been so easy to humiliate Cheaterbug Number 2 online given all our mutual Facebook friends. But I consciously chose to neither name nor shame. Instead I approached his girlfriend directly (that would be the girlfriend he didn’t tell me about), told her what happened, and let her deal with it as she saw fit. And then I blocked his ass. Case closed.

While still upsetting, it was rather more dignified and allowed all parties involved (myself included) to cope with a difficult, painful situation on our own terms. I’m by no means perfect, but I’m glad I handled it better the second time round. It helped me forgive myself for the first mistake.

What did I learn? Well, this: There are many appropriate channels through which to speak the truth, make a complaint, and remedy an unfair situation. Making a private issue public, especially via the internet should be the absolute last straw.

I also think there should be some scale involved, I mean Kony-like, Malala Yousafzai-Taliban-fighting-like, global injustice, infraction of human rights-level stuff demands certain means. But certainly not petty disagreements between two parties that only impact those parties.

Age, experience, yoga and intense self-enquiry has taught me that to react when you’re overcome by rage or any other strong emotion is to inflict hurt on yourself and those around you. There’s no way the mind can make good decisions when the body is flooded with those chemicals and the ego is in over-drive. And if you have the gift of the gab, or any social influence, the keyboard is mightier and far more insidious than the sword.

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Words can hurt. And putting words out there into the universe, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Because you can never take them back. That’s why I’ve pondered long and hard even before publishing this story.

From my personal experience, being a keyboard warrior and taking your discontent to the interwebs is not always the best choice.

What I learnt is that the best way is to confront the object of your discontent directly, like a grown-up. (Read about that and five other things you can do instead of stomping off and throwing an anonymous online tantrum here: http://www.fivestarsandamoon.com/practical-things-to-do-to-stomp-and-trs/ ) Then bring it to the necessary authorities and let them – independent parties that they are – handle it. Public announcement should be a last resort and only if justice is not served.

And definitely wait for your strong emotions to pass before taking to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. I understand the impulse to let rip and take revenge – I’ve been there. And that’s why I say sleep on it, talk to people whom you know and trust, and make decisions when you’re clear-headed. Now, as much as possible, I choose mindful response over mindless reaction. I ain’t perfect, but I’m working on managing my shadow side better.

Mindful response means slow, considered, and true to myself. If the course of action is not in line with the person I want to be – I should reconsider. Now I check in with my gut instinct, ask people I love & trust and ponder will this really matter in five years? Of course if this is an issue of the greater good, national security or public interest, then by all means, find a journalist you trust and be their source! But if it’s just sour grapes, why not leave it at that, let go and move on.

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Even more so now than when I was on Friendster – you can’t predict or control the fallout. People are strange. And there are crazy trolls who take things too far like randoms who stalked and harassed the Honda Civic Ah Beng’s family, frightened Anton Casey’s son with death threats and turned the Aaron Jeremiejczyk assault into a racist anti-foreigner crusade. I’m certainly not defending their actions, but I do question if the punishments they received were contingent to the crime.

Who among us hasn’t properly messed up at least once in this life? Who am I to throw the first stone? Holding a wrong-doer accountable for their actions does not have to involve the ten billion people connected to social media. What goes around comes around, and I’m doing my best to keep that kind of negativity out of my legacy.

Sure haters are gonna hate – do you really wanna be one of them? Do you really want to enable haters?

I certainly don’t. So in this age of hyperspeed information sharing, let’s think before we click.

 

 

 

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About the author

Sabina Fernandez

Sabina Fernandez is a Singaporean editor and yoga teacher. She has crafted content for Audi, Singtel, Conde Nast Traveller and Time Out and her most popular online article received 12,000+ views in two days.
Most recently she was an editor at Her World, Singapore's largest women's magazine. When not writing, she teaches regular outdoor yoga classes in the botanic gardens and by the beach.

For info about her writing visit www.sabinafernandez.branded.me or go to www.sabinafernandez.com for more about her yoga classes.

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