You're Doing It Wrong: Blame Yourself, Not the Internet, For Your Addictions

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It could be worse...
The Internet is always being blamed for something. It seems like everyday, someone somewhere is complaining about how the web is distracting, easily addictive and a replacement for "real" life and friends. The reality is, it's true. Much like the "real world," the virtual version provides users with easy access to all sorts of debauchery and time wasting activities.

Unlike reality, however, the Internet seems to be a greater target for blame. The New York Times Magazine wrote a piece on internet trolls over the weekend that centered around a young woman who took naked photos of herself for an ex-boyfriend who "threatened to kill himself if she didn't pose for naked photographs toward the end of their abusive relationship." Predictably, they ended up online.

The article went into great detail about how unwitting victims have little recourse when such things happen. Sure, the ex who feigned suicide to get his girlfriend to pose nude and then disseminated them among his friends, one of whom posted them on the web with her name and a slur, is a pig who probably deserves an ass kicking, but it was ultimately the woman who made the choice to actually take the photos. If there is anything celebrity sex tapes have taught us, it is don't record anything digitally you aren't comfortable seeing distributed to the world.

Those of us who spend a lot of time working with and talking about web-based communities shrug off stories like this one that crop up on a nearly weekly basis. Someone is always bemoaning the triteness of Twitter or blaming internet porn and gambling for destroying the moral fabric of society. Ironically, blogs and websites are filled with cautionary tales of how web addition is bad for you. These are stories so meta, they should be ripping holes in the space time continuum.

But, a couple of days ago, local Houston social blog CultureMap posted a story by Sarah Byerley entitled "I gave up Facebook and it's the best decision I ever made: Becoming a true mystery date," which the blog, naturally, promoted via its Facebook page. Not everyone is heeding Ms. Byerley's advice, it would seem.

In the post, Byerley describes how she gave up the popular social networking site because she was "unhappy with the amount of time I was wasting creeping on people." She discovered that, after removing her profile, she found new uses for her time and even gained an extra 90 minutes of sleep each night because she wasn't spending that time on Facebook.

Byerley went on to recount a blind date, in which the "chance to get to know someone through conversation and not just through their movie tastes on Facebook was exciting." She continued:

There's a lot to be said for getting to know someone the old fashioned way. The relationship might not have lasted in the end, but those first few weeks were an experience unlike any other. I got to know someone based purely on real life interactions. I didn't go through all of his embarrassing high school pictures, and he didn't get to go through mine. We got to ask each other questions without already creepily knowing the answers.

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While I admire Ms. Byerley for making a decision and sticking to it, I'd like to humbly submit that Facebook was not her problem. Spending hours of time "creeping" people on Facebook is not the fault of the website. Blaming social networking sites because you spend too much time reading them is like blaming alcohol for your hangover. Jack Daniels didn't forcibly pour bourbon down your throat any more than Mark Zuckerberg stood over your shoulder with a gun to your ear demanding you play Farmville.

I understand that some people probably shouldn't be involved in certain online behavior. I've known people who gave up online gambling, porn, social networking, commenting on political websites and so on because it was creating an emotional attachment that wasn't healthy. To all of them I say, "Bravo!" But, don't turn around and tell me that you had no choice but to download 10,000 gigabytes of x-rated video clips. You made that choice with your brain (or another part of your anatomy), not with your laptop.

What is most frustrating about stories such as this is they spend so much time decrying the addictive impulses and social disconnection sites like Facebook supposedly foster, they miss the point that all of these mediums are, ultimately, about connection.

Yes, there are times when this connection is creepy, uncomfortable or even criminal. But there are far more opportunities to meet people you may have never met, learn things you may have never learned and open yourself up to, literally, a world of possibilities, than there are dangers to be avoided. Frankly, it is no more difficult to figure out what to avoid online than it is offline.

Since connecting to the Internet in the early `90's, I have met new friends, re-connected with old friends, found business opportunities and learned about viewpoints I never knew existed. Instead of only consorting with people I know and with whom I agree, I have access to widely differing opinions and I'm better for it.

Sure, I've been heckled, taunted and even threatened. There have been times when it was awkward, scary and downright strange. But, how is that any different from real life? Maybe the delivery method is different, but we are all still people behind the eerie glow of the monitor and click-click-click of the keyboard. 

If you don't want to be a part of it; if you prefer "old fashioned" interactions, by all means. But, don't blame the Internet for taking up all your time and keeping you from sleeping. After all, you are the one pointing the mouse.

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13 comments
cmdevelopment
cmdevelopment

Wow. You weren't kidding. She really did get your goat, eh? A whole article's worth in response!

brandius
brandius

Dear Jeff---

Thank you. Ive been wanting to write out my thoughts on this issue (both personal responsibility and the "I quit Facebook" craze) for a while now.

I agree with the majority of what you said. I know that you know that there are, of course, exceptions to every rule and nothing is as black and white.

Good job, Balke!

Eric S
Eric S

I think not being on Facebook is the new not watching television. People do it with the idea that removing themselves from something popular makes them somehow better than people who don't. Facebook isn't all Farmville, Mafia Wars and stalking. It allows me to keep in touch with family and friends across the country. I say use Facebook wisely and reap the rewards!

Kyle Nielsen
Kyle Nielsen

Jeff,With regard to the pictures situation, you say that "ultimately the woman made the choice" to take the photos, and I think that's pretty unfair. This was a sexual assault committed through emotional coercion. For something analogous, consider a person who goes into a bank armed and threatens suicide if the teller doesn't clean out the till. He deserves more than an ass-kicking. It's not even close to the same as a sex tape of people who freely participated in making a video (free, also, of coercion).

I generally support the points made in the rest of the piece, and had a similar reaction to the Culturemap piece.

Jeff
Jeff

Thanks and, yes, there are always exceptions.

Sarah
Sarah

Kyle,I completely agree that the act of making those private photos public is wrong, but for most women, choosing to photograph yourself nude and give it to someone is an act of trust and love. Can you imagine being in a situation that you would consider putting yourself in that vulnerable, trusting place to someone who was clearly unstable? I think there is psychiatric pathology in both members of the relationship described in the NYT magazine article.

I agree that woman made the choice to send digital nude photos, but perhaps more ominously, she made the choice to be in a relationship with someone capable of threatening suicide as a means to an end.

ps. a relationship is kinda different than going into a bank and threatening someone to "clean out the till"

Jeff
Jeff

I understand where you are coming from. I really do. It's unfortunate, but, it was a voluntary activity regardless of the reasons the guy gave her. She still, ultimately, had a choice - albeit a seemingly tough one.

I feel really bad for her and anyone duped into something so untoward, but my point was that the technology that provided the medium for her ex's transgression isn't culpable for what happened despite being tagged with much of the blame.

JB
JB

"she made the choice to be in a relationship with someone capable of threatening suicide as a means to an end."

This is where you lost me. You seem to be saying that somebody in an abusive relationship deserves to be abused.

kylejack
kylejack

Sarah,People don't always start out the relationship acting crazy, so sure, I could see myself getting into a relationship with someone who later exhibited crazy behavior. If they demanded pictures or suicide I don't really know how I'd react if I didn't have a chance to get them help right away. Do I want to walk around with someone's death on my conscience for the rest of my life, even though I wasn't really responsible?

I would feel violated.

Sarah Rufca
Sarah Rufca

So anyone who agrees to take naked pictures for private use is to blame when they end up online? I'm looking forward to your next column, "Women Who Dress Like That Deserve To Get Raped."

 Christine Tremoulet
Christine Tremoulet

I'm with you on this. It is the "jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge" argument. Just because he threatened suicide, she didn't have to say yes. Horrible to be in that situation, but true. 30 years it would have been a similar in person version - and the internet wouldn't have been around to be blamed. (Yes, I heard of people dealing with similar things in the 80s.)

Meanwhile, I find it ironic that I just "Liked" this on Facebook.

People always want something to blame for their own weaknesses. They need to accept their own actions.

Sarah
Sarah

That is a misinterpretation of what I was saying ("that somebody in an abusive relationship deserves to be abused").

I was saying that choosing to be with someone who would do that in the first place was a bad choice, and just like women that end up in an abusive relationship, she might benefit from the services of a psychiatric professional... now that the smoke has cleared, I hope she will reflect on how she went about choosing a partner, which I would advise to someone in an abusive relationship as well.

Jeff
Jeff

Good lord. Overblow things much?

I don't blame her ENTIRELY, but to say she is completely blameless is simply inaccurate. She didn't deserve to have her douchebag ex pass the private photos she sent him around and have them ultimately end up online, but she had to know it was a POSSIBLE consequence of that initial action.

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