Most days I come to my office and quietly browse through my regular rounds of internet stops. I check email. I post to twitter or Google+. Often I write a blog entry. I’ve built a nice little space on the internet which I inhabit and from which I can venture and sample the other things that are available. But I have a creeping fear that some morning I will come to my computer and discover that someone with a soapbox has decided to stand me on it. This will happen without my permission and in my absence. Soapbox Owner will either stand me there to pelt me with abuse or to demand explanations from me. Sometimes Soapbox Owner’s tone is reasonable and discussion oriented, other times abusive. Either way, I’ll find myself on the box, expected to speak, instead of beginning my work day settling in. Most likely I’ll be dragged to the soapbox for something I am, rather than an opinion I stated. I am blonde and wear braids (Soapbox Owner saw a picture of it on my blog) so I must explain why this is the one right way for blonde people to wear their hair or, alternately, to explain how I dare to wear braids when such things should be reserved for those with red hair. The fans of Soapbox Owner will yammer at me like a pack of dogs, also demanding answers. I must explain my blonde-ness and my braid-y-ness right away. In the tumult I know that if I give the wrong answer they will attempt to rip me to shreds. If I don’t answer that too will be taken as an answer, and the rending will continue on schedule. Either way, my entire day and possibly my week (month? year? some soapboxes are huge) has been derailed. Instead of doing the things I deem important, I have to figure out how to extract myself from internet drama.
This has not happened to me yet. It may never happen to me. I hope it doesn’t, but I have friends who have been through it. It is one of the risks of having a portion of my life take place on the internet. I am more afraid of this than the drive-by hateful comments or emails. Fortunately at my current level of internet exposure, this is extremely unlikely to happen to me. But I hope to be a commercially published author some day. I will become more visible, a more attractive target. It is one of the costs that I must weigh when choosing the path to pursue.
Edited to add: Thanks to Heidi in the comments I have some additional thoughts on this topic.
Once I was at a large party which had broken into smaller groups. I was telling an anecdote to three people, when the larger group had one of those conversational lulls. My voice ran out clear in the silence and everyone turned to look at me. Suddenly I had an audience of twenty instead of three. My stomach clenched. This anecdote was three-person-amusing not twenty-person-funny. I continued on through, because the alternative was to die of embarrassment. Sure enough the anecdote fell flat and the party moved onward. Everyone there is still my friend, and all is good. But that moment when everyone turned to look to me is seared in my memory because I was unprepared. My fear of internet drama is exactly that fear. If/when it happens to me, I will do as I did at the party. I will speak the words I have, knowing they might not be good enough, because that is all I can do.
I also realized that if the actual soapbox issue at hand were hair braids, it would not fill me with fear. I am firmly and calmly in the camp that anyone who wants braids can have them. Having people disagree with that will cause me uneasiness, because I don’t like conflict, but it will not rock my world. Much harder is when the issue hits one of my many pockets of self-doubt. Then I have to speak up even though I’m not sure I’m right. Terrifying. Also I will then spend the next several weeks stewing over the issue even when I have more urgent and important matters to address. (Me coming back to edit this entry could not possibly be an example of stewing. Nope. Not at all.) I am afraid of the soapbox when I am not sure I have the right answer, even though I know that sometimes saying “I haven’t got a good answer.” can itself be the right answer.
Lastly: Soapboxes are important. It is critical that people who own soapboxes are willing to stand on them and draw attention to issues which matter. I have some soapboxes of my own. Mostly they are dusty because of my dislike of conflict. I still have them because the time may come when I have to stand on one and shout. There are times and issues for which confrontational tactics, like standing someone on your soapbox, are necessary. I understand this. I still hope it doesn’t happen to me.