Many moons ago, on (what I thought was) an obscure Pagan listserv, someone brought up a recently published book on Wicca and asked if anyone was familiar with it. I replied that the book in question was a revised edition of an earlier manuscript, that it contained a number of inaccuracies, and that the author had a dubious reputation. Thus was my legacy as the Libel Monster from Hades apparently born.
Months later, I received an email from the author. The subject line was simply the title of his book, so I figured it was a mass-mailed press release or something. I opened the email and read the first couple of paragraphs, and then I thought, “Wow, this press release contains a lot of profanity and spelling errors. That’s an unusual public relations strategy.” it was at this point I realized the email was addressed to me personally.
Unamused by my assessment of his work, the author raged against my “incompetent” opinions and condemned me (I am not making this up) for being part of the vast, shadowy Wiccan cabal that was out to destroy him. Upon reflection, I decided a response was unnecessary, but I was extremely curious as to how he tracked me down. We didn’t know each other in real life, and we weren’t members of any of the same online forums, so the fact that I’d even made it onto his radar was, at the very least, unsettling.
Initially, I suspected that someone had reprinted my comments in a different venue, so I Googled my name, along with the book title and a couple of other keywords, and… bam: The top result was the listserv itself — specifically, my original message. It turned out that the owner of the list had never adjusted the privacy settings, so any and everything posted to the group was visible to anyone who thought to look for it. Mystery solved (huzzah), but I learned an important lesson about online anonymity, in that there really isn’t any. So now, regardless of how “private” or “hidden” or “secret” a given discussion group claims to be, I ask myself, “Do I care if this traces back to me?” before jumping into the fray. If the answer is “no,” then I post whatever I want; if it’s “yes,” then I keep my damn yapper shut.
I tell this story, because last night, my blog stats spiked. This on its own is not newsworthy — the majority of the hits I receive come from all both of my readers, but occasionally there’s some kind of weird, virtual solar flare, and my stats suddenly skyrocket before settling back down to normal, Z-List levels. So a random blip now and again is no biggie, except in this case, all the new visits were coming from social media platforms on which I do not have a presence.
Before we go any further, I should explain that I have Internet Search Engine Superpowers. Seriously, I’m like Find-Things Girl, except the Internet. I don’t know why I’m as good at it as I am, and it’s about as marketable a skill as having the aisles of a grocery store memorized, but regardless, I can find the hell out of shit, as demonstrated by the following conversation that actually happened a few years back:
Friend – “This guy @PublicPaganName on Twitter is pissing me off.”
Me – “Just ignore him, dude.”
Friend – “I want to, but I can’t stop looking at his feed. I wish I could just call him up and make him understand how wrong he is.”
Me – “Hang on a second.” [tap tap tap, click click] “He works at an Ann Taylor about an hour or so from Joliet. Do you want the phone number?”
Friend – “…”
Me – “Or maybe just the PO box?”
He didn’t want either, but you get the idea. So yeah, once all these hits came flying in from out of nowhere, I summoned my amazing mutant abilities, ran a couple of queries and discovered a covey of Bright Young Things discussing my blog.
Not fans, as it turns out. Which? Kind of awesome.
As a writer, it’s actually pretty hard to find quality, unbiased feedback, and while this wasn’t the motherload, it was certainly a mineable vein. Plus one of the comments (less constructive criticism, more zinger) was hilarious enough that I honestly want to send the author a muffin basket. But I’m also thinking about that “anonymous” book review I wrote however many years ago, and I’m wondering: Do these people know I can see what they’re saying?
Maybe so and maybe no, and neither really matters (to me, at least). But overall, I do hope they’re being careful with what they say and where they say it, since disgruntled Netizens don’t always give up after one late-night, semi-coherent email. Or, failing that, I hope they are open to approaching these situations in terms of humor — that is, if you’ feel compelled to look both ways before telling a joke, it is probably best left untold. Likewise, if your last thought before posting a comment is, “It’s not like he/she/they will ever see this,” then maybe, y’know, take a breath and reconsider before hitting “send.”
So with all that said and done, there’s only one question left to address. Nicole, @Gardnerians and I are not the same person, but you’re right: I really do tend to ramble.
Thanks for reading!