On Respecting People’s Internet Spaces.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I had a friend who posted Facebook status updates like:

“Any opposition to {$presidential candidate} stems purely from misogyny. I don’t want to debate this. If you disagree, keep your opinions to yourself.”

Now, I disagreed with that. Thoroughly. But you know what I did?

I kept my opinions to myself.

And later on, during the election, when she said she didn’t want to hear any of her friends talking about how {$presidential candidate} was a flawed candidate, I sent her a message telling her I couldn’t do that and quietly unfriended her.

Because frankly, she’d said she didn’t want to hear it – and I thought the least I could do was to respect her wishes as to how she wanted her Internet space to look, even if I disagreed with them.

But I continued to post about {$presidential candidate}’s flaws in my space, because, well, it’s my space.

And yesterday, posting about how there was nothing shameful about Trump’s alleged watersports play in the unlikely event he’d done it, a friend of mine replied how they were humiliated by all the coverage. They were into watersports, and it was painful for them to see all the jokes because it felt like the jokes were aimed at them.

Another friend replied directly to them with a series of bad watersports puns.

I called him out on his assholery, and he flounced.

But I don’t regret his flounce. Because in my mind, if someone says, “I don’t want this thing,” and you push past their objections to directly hand it to them, on some level you’re an asshole.

Which is not to say that there aren’t tons of people out there who I think are racist, and sexist, and rude, and ignorant – and yes, I’d like to change their opinions. And yeah, I think my first friend lived in a bit of a bubble.

But I’m practical. Hell, Internet debate barely moves the needle when open debate is welcome. When someone’s actively said, “I don’t want to hear this,” crashing into someone’s personal space like the Kool-Aid Man to go “OH NO, LET ME EXPLAIN ALL THE WAYS IN WHICH YOU ARE IGNORANT” has almost never worked in the history of mankind.

So even if I had the arrogance to believe that I was 100% right on a topic – and sometimes I do! – I’d also have the self-recognition to realize that this person is not in a place to listen to me right now, and as a result this effort is wasted time.

Plus, it’s just rude. If someone says, “I don’t like the scent of coffee,” shoving a can of Maxwell House into their face to prove a point isn’t funny – it makes you an asshole.

The line gets more complex in other people’s spaces, or in public. If someone says, “I don’t want to debate this” while they’re making comments on my journal, well, that’s my space. If you don’t want to debate it, don’t come into a place where I’m specifically inviting debate. And if they’re making controversial statements and not wanting anyone anywhere to refute them, even if those people’s own personal spaces, well, I’m sorry, shutting down the entire world for your convenience is a bit much.

(Just as if someone hates the scent of coffee, you prooooobably shouldn’t walk into a Starbucks and expect to have everything shut down to match your scent profiles.)

But there is such a thing as a private space. Even on the Internet. I think we can respect the space, if not the opinion, or even the person.

Because occasionally I see someone going off on a frothing rant on, say, dogs on how dogs aren’t nearly as good as cats and they’re filthy animals and lame and have no dignity and nobody could ever respect them. It’s clear from their tone that their opinion’s not going to change – and that replying to them will be seen as a personal assault against their well-being.

What they say is clearly not true. For I respect dogs.

But I also think, “Well, here’s a person whose opinion I’m not going to budge, and clearly they’re not looking for dissent in their mentions,” and move on. Because all I’m going to do is anger this person, anger myself, and not cause one damn bit of change anywhere. And contribute to the idea that my opinions are so earth-shattering that the world is not complete unless I weigh in on that topic, at that moment, in this inappropriate space.

Which is not to say that all dissent is inappropriate, or that all frothing rants must be left alone. (Particularly if that person is talking to a large audience.)

What I am saying is that sometimes, the studied usage of silence is the wisest move. Because I believe that people have a right to control their own Internet spaces – through blocks, or filters, or whatever controls are handy.

I do not always agree with how these people use these controls. But the very point is that the world is not so uniform that everyone should act precisely according to my approval. And sometimes – most times – I respect the way they want to shape their private spaces, even as I don’t respect the opinion.

Complex? Maybe. Lots of people don’t seem to get it. But it’s what I do.

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