You Called Me A Bitch On The Internet…

Socially Sober: The Good, The Bad, and the Selfie

Erica Albright: You called me a bitch on the Internet, Mark.
Mark Zuckerberg: That’s why I wanted to talk to you.
Erica Albright: On the Internet.
Mark Zuckerberg: That’s why I came over.
Erica Albright: Comparing women to farm animals.
Mark Zuckerberg: I didn’t end up doing that.
Erica Albright: It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink. And you published that Erica Albright was a bitch, right before you made some ignorant crack about my family’s name, my bra size, and then rated women based on their hotness.
- The Social Network (2010)

This past Sunday morning, I woke up, bleary eyed as usual, and fumbled beside me to find the source of the annoying sound. It was my iPhone alarm, which I always set whether I need to or not, knowing that if I didn’t, I could probably sleep all day.

Phone in hand, I turned off the noise and began my morning routine, pirate style (as my roommate Maude calls it) one eye squinting open, the other still firmly, sleepily shut. First, I checked my emails. A bunch of press releases about the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, some subscriptions I always delete (but forget to unsubscribe to) a couple of personal emails from friends, a few notifications about my newsletter, a bunch from YouTube about mentions in comments, one from Apple and one from Facebook.

The YouTube emails contained all the replies to a comment I had made thanking viewers for watching a video I had appeared on. These varied from the lovely, “you’re awesome and so much fun to watch” and “goddamn you know your stuff!” to the not-so lovely, “anyone else want to punch Alicia Malone in the face?” and “you’re such a typical feminist bitch!” as well as the simple, and to the point, “f**k you Alicia.”

A great start to the morning. Taking a deep breath, I deleted all the other 23 YouTube emails with one defiant swipe, and kept wading through my inbox. The email from Apple filled me with dread. It said, “We were unable to reset the password for your Apple ID, because there were too many unsuccessful attempts to answer your security questions.” And the one from Facebook said something similar, about too many login attempts from multiple devices. Now, I know I have a social media addiction, but I don’t think I’ve yet progressed to sleep-Facebook-ing.

By now, both my eyes were wide open, and I felt a nagging worry that somehow, someone was watching everything I did on my phone. Could they access my emails, my photos, my messages, my bank accounts and my apps? This added into my overall creeping fear that I am just too available on the Internet.

I’ve never thought of myself as a public person, which I know seems strange given my job, but when I started appearing on TV in 2008, I would never hear from anyone watching. Ever. I would never be told that I “should” do this, or I “have to be” like that from people I didn’t know. Or, conversely, I didn’t ever hear from people who thought I was great. Which was probably a good thing, because I was actually pretty terrible when I first started doing interviews.

As an test to see what was already out there, I opened Google and typed in “Alicia Malone”, knowing that if somehow a mysterious person could see my every online move, they would think I was pretty full of myself. As the results came up, I realized with shock at just how much info there is about me, readily available at your fingertips. I’m talking: all the addresses of the previous places I have lived in Los Angeles, though luckily, not my current one. As well as all the personal information I probably posted or talked about myself.

I did have a chuckle when I looked at my “wikifeet” page (what the hell) and saw it included a picture of my foot, swollen and so ugly, from the time a spider in Cannes bit me. I had tweeted it because I thought it was amusing that my “explore” tattoo looked like it said, “explode”. Now I just felt sorry for anyone who frequents this site. It’s almost enough to turn a foot-loving person off feet for good.

At this point of the morning, I felt slightly exposed, but also with the distinct feeling of FOMO, because I hadn’t yet checked Twitter. How else will I know what’s going on in the world? I justified to myself, as I opened my notifications instead of my news app. The first tweet addressed to me was from someone who “just had to tell me” that, “I get annoyed with you a lot but I still love you.” Unsure of how to take it, I wrote back a confused, “Thanks?” shaking my head at the backhanded compliment.

The rest of my notifications were, once again, a mixture of genuine, lovely people… and the absolute worst of humanity. Trust me, if you ever want to weed out some followers, try re-tweeting an article about the lack of diversity at the Oscars, and see how much anger you get in return. “Racism does not exist you idiot”, read one, “It’s not racist, just white actors are better”, read another, and “You f*cking guilty white liberal! Stop talking about this!” was another from the pile.

This was all within about thirty minutes of waking up, so, as you can imagine I was feeling SUPER HAPPY about myself by this point. Next up, Instagram, a quick scroll through the photos, nothing much happening there, and then finally, to the dreaded Facebook. When I first joined the popular AMC Movie Talk team, I got so excited by all the friend requests, I said yes to every single one. I’m going to friend everyone! I thought with glee. Look at all my friends! I have so many friends! Sure, I don’t know them and probably never will, but still, I’m important! Worth friend-ing!

Then, the messages started coming, private messages with obscene, sexual comments, a few filled with hate and some which just said “HI” about forty times over then called me a bitch if I didn’t respond. Over time this all got to be so much; I would miss messages from people I actually knew, because I was just too scared to open my message box.

This quick check of Facebook confirmed that yes; someone had been trying to hack into my account here, as well as my Apple one. I couldn’t even change my own password because there were so many attempts at it. Forty minutes on the phone with Apple, a set-up of an official, protected Facebook page, and an unsubscribe to all YouTube emails later; I had sort-of fixed these problems as best as I could. It seems to me that a lot of these social apps make it very easy for the people doing the harassing, and hard (or extremely time-consuming) to protect yourself against it.

Feeling incredibly frustrated, I headed down to the gym to cardio my way through it. On the way, my phone rang. A robotic, pre-taped voice called Barbara wanted to know, “do I needed my carpets cleaned?” No, Barbara! I said through clenched teeth. I do not! By that point, I wanted to throw my phone in a bin. How do they even get my number? I’ve put it on the official Do Not Call lists more times than I can remember. As soon as I got home, I ordered a “dumb” phone as a trial — a phone that only makes calls and does text messages, and NOTHING else. It won’t stop Barbara, but it may stop me.

Because despite all of this, throughout this day, I kept checking social media every chance I could. I kept feeling that drag back to it as if I were missing out on something important. I wasn’t actually missing anything. As part of the experiment I outlined last week, I logged each time I opened the apps and why. All in all, I spent approximately four hours on social media in one day. HOLY. HELL. Most of the time, it was because I was bored, even though I had a lot of real work I needed to do. Other times, I was just mindlessly looking, filling the quiet with virtual connection. And the others, I was just making myself frustrated. It is almost sadistic. And why do I try to avoid that quiet?

In this experiment, I had invited other people to join me, and to my surprise they did, emailing me a typical day in their social media filled lives. One person wrote that they vowed at the beginning of each week to read on their commute to work, but always ended up on Twitter instead. Another said they spent hours watching YouTube videos, some of which was my own content. Someone else admitted to accidentally opening up the twitter app without meaning to, then spending a good amount of time on it, completely forgetting the other thing they were meant to do. I’ve done that, quite a lot!

Another email I received spoke about using social media while having the TV on in the background, half listening; while another said how the experiment made them realize how weird it was that they wanted to post a photo about their lunch. And then there was one email, which particularly spoke to me:

“When I’m standing waiting for a coffee, I’m not sure if I’m reaching for my phone because I’m addicted to it or because I want to put a wall up so no one speaks to me (but also communicates “I have a life and know people”). I can’t work out why we get inspired to be ‘in the moment’ from some meme we see on Facebook, only to be petrified by it later.”

Isn’t that a great question to ask?

On that Sunday, I also got a text from a friend, who had asked why I was shutting down my personal Facebook page. After I told him, he replied:

“I understand you’re torn about social media. Is there any way you can set boundaries, so it doesn’t consume you? Maybe go on once or twice a day, and limit it to 20 minutes each? Kind of like punching a time card on a job?”

Those words: “setting boundaries” hit me. They were exactly what I have been trying do in my own life and relationships. I can be too available, too open, and too nice to others and not to myself. Could it be that my “social” life mirrored my “real” one?

And just when I had started to think about that, a twitter friend, Tom Smith, wrote me this great email:

“Judging from the comments you get, people seem to really like that you engage back and that expectation has already been set. So some planning might be needed to help out. What about scheduling social media times? I’m surprised I can’t find anything about this. I don’t understand why people can’t just have some sort of office hours with social media (e.g. Wed PST 5–7?) At least that would set the expectations of getting a reply or favorite. When you Google ‘scheduling and social media’, most of what you get are tips on the best times to post content. [If you left suddenly] I think there is a risk of undoing some the awesome work you’ve done building up your tribe. I think the crucial part is setting, and being very clear with, expectations and knowing where people can go to find you.”

That’s a great suggestion to my first world problem to think about… after I get back from the Sundance Film Festival.

Now, film festivals are a place where I honestly feel I can share my experience and insight in a meaningful way through social media. And the best thing about this year’s festival? I’ll be working with Dropbox, who approached me to collaborate on some content ideas, with the core message being: celebrating creativity. And after reading my previous social media blogs (impressive!) they pitched me a different type of Instagram takeover. Not selfies, but empowering images, asking filmmakers in-depth questions about their creative process. YES! I replied to the team in all-caps; THIS IS WHAT I’M ALL ABOUT!

Stay tuned.

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