Two weeks ago, this blog post blew up. OK. Blew up is a relative term. As I checked my stats through the day, the view-meter kept climbing upward. Prior to this day, the views on my posts were in the single digits; but here they rapidly climbed into the tens. It was a heady day and completely outside of my experience. It turned out that someone had shared my post on Metafilter, a community that I had previously been unaware of. Who had posted my blog post and why? How had this person even found my blog?
I had written the post after an unequivocally bad day on the world wide web, specifically on twitter that had me seriously considering just taking down the blog, the twitter, the instagram. It had been one of those sort of, “well, I might as well write and post this because I’ll probably take the whole thing down anyway,” sort of moments. The day before I had used my twitter account to post a picture of people walking down the sidewalk-less street in my neighborhood. I tweeted the photo at the county council representative for this neighborhood and included a comment about the lack of sidewalks and other pedestrian safety infrastructure in my neighborhood. It was not the first time I had been in touch with local officials about these issues, but it was the first time I had tweeted about it. The representative responded very quickly, which I was initially felt good about. Maybe twitter really is the way to bring attention to these issues in our communities and to get this basic needs met! He asked me to send my details — name and phone number — in a DM so that he could look into the situation. My conditioning about not sharing personal details with people on the internet is apparently strong enough that I hesitated for a moment, but then I thought, “this is the county representative and he needs my information in order to follow up on what I’m talking about. What could possibly go wrong?” I know. I’m probably incredibly naive. Or certainly so. In the course of DMing with this representative, someone in his staff responded with a public tweet which included my last name (which was not previously associated with that twitter account) and an image showing an identifiable intersection in my neighborhood.
My heart was pounding in my ears. I immediately commented, pointing out that my personal information had just been posted in a public tweet and then told the representative via DM that someone (I didn’t know who it was yet) had just posted my name and a picture showing the neighborhood where I live . He said that he could have that person take it down and also went on to explain why it had been posted. As I sat there DM’ing on my phone, I heard my daughter sitting next to me say to her sister, “Wow. Mom is really mad. I’ve never seen her text like that.” I was apparently hammering away at the touch screen, trying to get my personal information taken down. Eventually the post was removed.
The rest of the day, Eric and I considered what course of action we should be taking. Should we just take it all down? I called my brother, who is more internet savvy than we are, and asked him for his advice. At the center of all of our concerns was, of course, the safety and privacy of our children. The enjoyment I was getting out of blogging and having a publishing outlet paled in comparison to being able to maintain our privacy. After these several conversations, we decided to keep it up.
And so this was my state of mind when I wrote and posted about some of what our experiences have been in our neighborhood and our county. I suppose that when some personally identifying information was made public on the web, in a way, it made me feel like I didn’t have anything to lose.
The number of views of my blog post climbed steadily into the hundreds. And about mid-way through the day, I received a message on Instagram. “Hey, thought I should let you know that I posted your last blog entry on metafilter.com. There’s been some discussion there you might be interested in.”
I wept. Yes. I actually wept.
People in South Africa were reading my writing. People all over the world were reading what I wrote. And a few were even discussing it. One person even compared it to another person’s writing and other communities in America. And the person who posted it? He generously called it an “essay”. My little blog post, dashed off in a moment of near despair: an essay.
And all of this was in the wake of when I had had this experience where the internet felt like such a hostile place.
Completely unaware of what had happened on twitter, this person on Instagram, messaged me back, “I feel like ‘here’s this cool piece of writing by a person I stumbled upon on Instragram’ is the kind of thing that Metafilter (and perhaps the original WWW) was was designed for.”
And there it is. Faith renewed.