Judging online is mostly wrong
I made a bad joke. Some creepy guy stuck to a woman in a crowded public transportation. Fortunately, a policeman was present there and he handled the situation on the spot, so it ended well. She went public with the story, on Twitter. A few tweets after the story started flowing, before I knew how serious it was, I said “I guess pick-up lines are overrated for some people.”
Obviously, I rushed in and I didn’t give the joke/pep talk much of a thought. I tried to ridicule the creepy guy in a way that I thought would make her brighten up about the situation she’d been through. She didn’t like the joke and she made it clear that she was sexually assaulted. By the time she finished the whole story I realized how terrible my joke was. Sexual assault is never easy but I thought “public transportation, a lot of people, not exactly the place a creepy guy could actually do something horrible, so it’s great she’s well and safe now, and a joke might make her feel better”, so I just hit Enter.
Then the people reacted and it wasn’t pretty. I got told to delete my account I was called a jerk, dick and “white dude”, others were appalled by the insensitivity of my joke and the reactions kept flowing. It got seriously out of hand and although I explained it was just a joke and that I was sorry about its outcome, it was just too fresh to be ignored by the people following the thread. But that’s common on the internet, right?
While I can understand their honest reactions, there are a few things that I don’t quite understand.
- It was a terrible joke but it should’ve been obvious to everyone I wasn’t there to attack her and I didn’t attack anyone else, regardless of their reactions throughout the thread.
- I was told to leave her alone because that’s not my story, but they didn’t consider that they kept involving me in the thread, and not all with words that one can ignore.
- While people expected me to understand exactly what I did, most of them didn’t seem to make an effort to understand that I had already seen what I did and I felt bad about it but the conversation moved from explaining and excusing myself to defending myself against their own bad judgments.
Being insulted and even remotely compared to the perpetrator (over a joke) was unacceptable to me. You can ignore trolling, but it’s not easy to ignore people thinking you’re someone who you’re definitely not.
The image we project online rarely fits who we really are. It can say right and wrong, but it never covers everything about us. However, if someone proves bad judgment while saying something online, some people feel entitled to say pretty much what they feel, without pondering too much, if at all, about what that does to their target and everyone else reading.
I said something wrong, maybe I deserved some punches, but from the woman I commented to, not random bystanders — because it was just a joke about the creepy guy. And jokes are interpreted differently by people all over the world, so it’s also a social/cultural thing. Even in the same country or city, the same joke can be ignored, or laughed at, or simply demolished for being inappropriate.
Many of those people told me I should apologize, which I have, although reading messages on twitter is quite a pain when you reply to a lot of people and your answers get hidden under different threads. Probably most people missed the posts where I said I was sorry and that I apologized. She blocked me, so I don’t even know if she could see that. It felt like I was talking to an angry mob that wasn’t actually listening. But if it was hard for me to find my own replies on Twitter, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for any of them either.
All in all, it was an unpleasant experience for everyone because of a rushed assessment of the context and a misplaced joke as a result on my part, and misjudgment and insults on the bystanders’ part.
This was by far my worst joke (considering the context and audience) and writing openly about it online is most likely not a good idea because it opens a can of worms. But I do acknowledge my mistake, I am sorry about it and I hope the woman will soon forget the bad taste of my joke, if she hasn’t already. She has much better things to do anyway — things I was following her for on Twitter in the first place.
To those thinking that what I wrote here and on Twitter is enough to get a good picture about me, you’re mistaken. Try writing as much as I did here and see if you can fully describe yourself accurately, without any risk of people misinterpreting, or misjudging you. And we’re not always clear-minded, especially night-owls like many IT people such as myself. And that’s not an excuse and it also doesn’t save anyone from online judgment.
The lesson here is: it might be best if you refrain from commenting about stories being written, unless you’re asked to do so. And even then, make sure you know the person well enough to know how to communicate with them. It’s extremely easy to say something wrong in-person, let alone the internet, where people usually feel and act more relaxed.
There’s something else. I got at least three people sharing links to various online articles about conflicts and resolutions. Always assume there are people better equipped than you to handle an online issue of any sort, and while some are well-intended, some will poke you as they see fit.
Finally, this story lead me to reading how lots of women struggle with genuine jerks, who not only assault them but they open conversations with body parts or even go bat* crazy on killing sprees. I didn’t write this just to better explain myself to those interested, but to make some people aware that we really need to learn to communicate better than we currently do. I’m not the person “they” think I am, but I still came up with a terrible joke because I didn’t take time to understand what happened. And rather than joking I could’ve simply walked by or actually encourage her to get over this event. Then some people projected a wrong image on me, labeled and judged me accordingly. We ended up discussing on what they thought and what I knew. And you should always ask yourself: “am I really like that? why do they see me like this?” If you find out you’re not like “they” think, that’s a sign you should improve your communications skills. It’s pretty obvious I must do it. I don’t understand why this isn’t taught in public schools, but a wild guess would be that if we would better see through facts and persons, the politicians would find it more difficult to manipulate the masses. This is not to say it’s strictly up to them to improve ourselves, regardless the gender. It’s also up to us. Misjudging doesn’t help people get along better in any way. Contradictory and civilized talks can, though.
I didn’t bring in names for privacy reasons. Please consider this if you will comment here. Thank you.
P.S. To those better equipped than others, keep in mind you might also be misjudging because of one’s less experience with communication, which is not your fault but you should still be aware of it before labeling.
Some people think I consider my problem more important and that I’m so oblivious to the real problem that I centered the story on myself and I keep complaining about me getting hurt. That’s not the case, although I used my mistake to build a case upon it. This is about how easy it is to mess up and others follow that path. It’s about people thinking they figured someone out and act accordingly, even by using bad words. It’s about people who point out to one’s poor judgment and don’t see how they are misjudging others. It’s about our issues with communication and sometimes unwillingness to go past our instincts and assume just for a few minutes that someone might be honest about their mistake, whatever our personal opinion is on that matter. Sexual assaults are and will probably remain a big problem for a long time. But although misjudging someone is close to irrelevant as long as we keep it to ourselves, publicly taking the “I know better” position might also stay around for a long time. That can generate fruitless conversations, animosities and sometimes open wars. The world is about a lot of issues to handle and we can’t stop and contemplate on one problem at a time like there’s nothing else. As broken and damaged I might be this is not about me. The online proves how badly we communicate on a daily basis, and how easily we get into arguments. Beyond cultural differences, nothing fixes our problems unless we tackle them, be open and communicate decently enough to actually reach some conclusions and hopefully get good results. It’s highly unfortunate how many people get hurt one way or another, but it never stops unless we figure out ways to understand each other and help each other. It’s not a competition about whose problem is bigger — they vary in size by their nature and their recipients. And when someone comes with a problem bigger than someone else’s, that doesn’t mean the other problems magically go away. This is a story about how misjudging is mostly wrong and how better communication can alleviate our issues. It’s not necessary to have the same views on these issues, but it’s important is to acknowledge them and work on fixing them.