When I was learning to drive, my father was (rightfully) very cautious about letting me on the road in certain situations (at night, while it was raining, for long periods of time). When I would complain about his overprotection, he would say, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t trust everybody else.”
Now that I’m older and have children of my own, I understand why he didn’t trust everyone else. Not everyone else would take the same care he taught me to use behind the wheel. And not everyone would watch out for me. Thus, I learned to watch what others are doing and to take precautions so that I arrive at my destination safely.
As my father was teaching me this important lesson, he could not have known that in just a few short years, there would be a new kind of traffic to navigate. As numerous users and experts alike have warned over the years, one must be careful how one traverses the internet. Not everyone will watch out for you. In fact, many will try to overtake you. This is why I protect my passwords, set my Facebook page to private, and never refer to my children by their real names in this forum. I have to protect what is mine.
With the introduction of social media, protecting oneself means being cautious about what one says and how publicly one does so. As a rule, I refrain from making statements that are overly political or religious on my Facebook wall or as comments on my friends’ statuses. It’s not that I don’t want others to know who I voted for or what church I do or don’t attend. I just choose not to make it an issue.
Recently, however, I have become very interested in one particularly controversial issue (which I will leave out of this discussion because that is not the focus of my blog) and have made comments on the wall of a group that holds a similar view. When someone of an opposing view entered the forum and began to stir things up, I explained my position and addressed each of the counterarguments this individual had to offer (until it became clear that he would not cease in trying to unravel my argument — at this point I politely resigned from the conversation).
I knew that these comments were being made on a publicly visible page and that anyone could see them. I had no problem with that. I never imagined that anyone would take my comments and publish them elsewhere. Yet, that is what happened. The next day, I checked up on the individual with whom I had been debating and found that he has a blog. Upon clicking the link to his blog, I found our debate copied and pasted for all his readers to see (and do with what they wished).
Initially, I was shocked. Then, shock turned into anger. What right did this individual have to use my comments for his own purposes (which seemed to be pointing out the faults in the opposition’s view)? Shouldn’t he at least have asked permission before taking what I said from its original context and putting it into his own? I believed that he should have, and when I called him on this, he simply indicated that public comments were subject to public use.
I spent the better part of an afternoon debating with this individual on the questionable practice of seeking out those with opposing views, entering into conversation with them, and republishing their comments without their knowledge or permission. He would not be convinced that there was anything wrong with what he did. (I suppose that is the nature of trolls. They build bridges to lure unsuspecting billy goats.)
His actions violate my own code of ethics, which do not allow such tactics. As an instructor, I teach my students never use an individual’s words without first seeking permission to do so. As an internet user, I do not republish another user’s public comments for my own purposes, and if I were to seek out the opinions of others for use in my blog, I would only do so with a full disclosure.
This experience has left me hurt, angry, and wanting to place the blame on a person I feel has acted irresponsibly. But I know that I can’t expect everyone to behave in the same way I do. I also know that I can’t expect someone to take responsibility for his actions just because those actions are not up to my standards. All I can do is take this experience for what it is — an important lesson not unlike the one my father taught me all those years ago.
So what lesson have I learned? Really, I’m not learning anything new here. It’s just like what Dad said about other drivers. I can’t trust everyone else. I can’t trust that someone will treat what I say with the same discretion I would use. And I can’t trust that everyone else relies on the same code of ethics by which I abide.
Perhaps more important than the lesson I have learned is the one I will pass on to my children. As a part of the generation that was raised before the internet and is raising children who know nothing else, I find it is so much more important and so much harder to teach them to protect themselves. Where my parents taught me not to say anything I didn’t mean, I have to teach my children not to say anything they don’t mean for others to use. This is a hard lesson to teach because there are as many ways to be used as there are internet users. I’m sure there is much more for me to learn. I just hope I don’t have to do it the hard way next time.