Self-censorship on the web

When I’m in the right mood I’m happy to share my opinions, often loudly and at great length. The only thing that stops me is shyness (as Morrissey said, Shyness is nice but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to), but that doesn’t hold in writing so in theory I should be unleashing my thoughts left, right and centre. In theory.

Putting ideas in writing means they can come back to haunt you, and if you do it in public they can be read by people you’d rather keep them away from, people who might misinterpret, deliberately misquote or twist your words and use them against you. Those words can survive long after you’ve changed your mind, grown up, or realised what your misinterpretation of a long and clever-sounding word made you sound like you were saying. Which of course makes me wonder why I (or anyone else) would want to bother. Sometimes I nearly don’t: I agonise over a blog post for hours, or I write and rewrite a comment destined for someone else’s blog and then abandon it, deciding that the paragraph of explanation and disclaimers would kill the witty one-liner I originally came up with (and ok, maybe it wasn’t that witty anyway).

In an argument (or ‘debate’ if you prefer) in person there’s room for back and forth, you can immediately step in to correct someone when you realise they misheard or misinterpreted what you said, or if you think you need to clarify. If I comment on a stranger’s blog (a stranger who knows nothing about my views or background, and whose first language may not be English. Or worse, whose first language is a different dialect of English where shared words don’t always have shared meanings) I run the risk of offending them, or one of their subsequent readers, and I won’t be there to defend myself. They will forever hold an unnecessarily tainted view of me.

I wouldn’t have this problem in a story, all beliefs and viewpoints can be said to be the fictional narrator’s, even if I do share some of them. Maybe what I need to do to free myself up is create an online alter-ego and write all future blog comments in character.

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