When Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd were in the early days of their courtship, they were part of a group in Springfield that was known as the Coterie. Apparently one of the members of this group was a guy who was a real character, so much so that Mary wrote up a funny rhyme and submitted it to a newspaper. Much to her surprise, as well as Lincoln’s, the poem got published. Even more surprising, the man the poem was about contacted the newspaper publisher demanding to know who had written this insulting piece. Lincoln took the blame and was promptly challenged to a sword duel, if you can believe that. Luckily a friend intervened and nobody was hurt. Abe and Mary decided the whole thing was so embarrassing they’d never talk about it again.
In the online world, it’s really easy to say something preachy or something funny at another person’s expense. We get a big reaction when we’re funny. We spark good conversations when we use a specific example to prove our points. Sometimes that specific example is something another person has done, wrong or right. When we are using another person to show how NOT to do something, we approach it like the Lincolns. We don’t exactly say who we’re talking about, right? We insinuate things. We leave little clues. But most of the time, no names are given. We stir up a mess of wasps and because we didn’t mention a name, we feel like we kept the person relatively anonymous.
I know this because I have done this myself. I have written posts or tweets or Facebook updates about something someone did or about something someone did NOT do, but I didn’t use their names or links to their websites or anything like that. I figured I could vent or make a point and because I wasn’t using a name, there was no harm. However, I think I have been lucky. It would be easy for someone like that friend of the Lincolns to suddenly challenge me and ask why I was bad-mouthing them. And it could happen to you, too.
In life, whether online or offline, I think we need to take more care in saying only what we can say with great conviction. If you TRULY believe that someone’s website is crap and you want to use them as an example of what not to do, don’t just quote some of the parts that you think are horrendous. Name them. First of all, it’s easy enough for people to search for the quotes you copied and figure it out anyway, but also, if you are so certain what they are doing is wrong, you should not be afraid to name them. If you don’t feel strongly enough about it to be bold, then perhaps you are feeling a sting of conscience. Obliquely referencing a person or a company is the online version of talking behind someone’s back. If you can’t say it directly to them, perhaps the best move is to refrain.
I am not saying that people should do more call-outs or that people should be MORE mean. But I guess I would say that in this era of Google and Twitter search and Facebook search, you never really can hide the identity of someone you’re raking over the coals, right? People can figure it out. People can alert them. If that makes your palms sweaty, perhaps you should refrain. Perhaps you do not really believe strongly what it is you were going to say. Perhaps you were just looking for a reaction. There are better ways to get one.
Don’t you think?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clover_1/5461216707/ via Creative Commons