[N.B. I originally posted this article on the Society of Southern Gentlemen blog. I don’t plan to maintain that site, so I am merging all the posts there onto this site, but keeping the original timestamps.]
One of the open secrets of social media, especially groups or pages on social media platforms, is that whoever creates a page becomes the petty1dictator of that particular piece of virtual estate. They are fief holders in a greater online empire. This applies for websites as well, but usually with a website, there is a clearer indication of who the particular owner is (the founder of this site, should it be unclear, is Jeremy Blevins, although he [I] would love to have it become what it was envisioned to be) [N.B. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, there is an copy of this page]. Nonetheless, the petty dictator of a particular web presence can either be benevolent, neutral, or malignant.
Such is the case of a particular Facebook page earlier this week. A discussion was started as to creating a lapel pin for the pseudo organization and one of the members of the page (in full disclosure: me) submitted a graphic for consideration for the purpose. The owner of the page, whom I had collaborated shared with when he was setting up the page, took umbrage with my claim to the graphic, which was in no way unique, given it was based on traditional elements, and I was “called out” to give credit where credit was due, the other fellow being of the impression that he’d created the particular graphic. I posted proof I’d created it a couple years prior the page being set up, and awaited the fellow to realize his mistake and issue an apology, as surely a gentleman would. I suppose I will be waiting until eternity because injudiciously and without notification, I was kicked out of the group. Another gentleman who was a member of the group engaged the fellow in discussion on a different issue, and when the fellow was unhappy with the course of that dialog, he kicked that gentleman out of the group as well (this I cannot provide a first-hand account of, as I had already been kicked out of the group, but the other expelled gentleman shared the story). I have to be honest, were it a real organization with real people who met in person, I might take greater offense to my integrity being called into question, but it goes to prove a greater point: the relative security and lack of recourse provided by online forums exposes dictatorial tendencies, which I believe are more natural to human nature than forced and artificial egalitarian and democratic ideals.
To elucidate the point: the fellow who created the page didn’t like that I’d countered his challenge to my integrity, so he deleted me from the group like I didn’t exist. That is how dictators react. Dissidents through the world, and especially in countries like North Korea, to cite a modern example, are silenced when they speak out against the dictator. Only a benevolent dictator allows dissidents to speak, and unless that dictator is well regarded (and strong), such speech poses a great threat to the authority of the dictatorship. I’m not insinuating the fellow with the Facebook page is a bad guy, I really don’t know him well enough to make such a claim. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. The fact remains, however, that by deleting me from the group, he has asserted dictatorial control over the message. He could still be accusing me of “stealing” the paltry little graphic, and I have no recourse to defend my good name.
So the moral of the story is this: don’t give too much credence to online communities (this one included). If you really want to associate with likeminded individuals, find a way to meet in person and share a human experience. Online forums are great, but they make us lazy and give us a feeling that we are more powerful than we truly are. Don’t hide behind a keyboard, be willing to stand up and be accountable in the real world with real men.
1In the medieval sense, i.e. “Of lesser importance or rank; subordinate: a petty prince.” (The Free Dictionary)