I have been online for a long time. I am 38. I was a designer for over a decade. I spent years in front of a computer. I spent many late nights tooling around IRC, commenting on message boards. I had a blog in the mid-90s. I started this one in 2001. I have experienced my fair share of online relationships. (I met Toby because of a message board called Dreamless.)
This is not some type of BEEN THERE! DONE THAT! rant. Not at all. I am writing this brief history to explain why I currently avoid most Internet drama. I have learned that nothing really good comes from it. Really. Nothing. I would say 99% of the time, Internet discussions and faceless, online interactions leave a person feeling agitated, upset, misunderstood, and obsessive. Someone is always going to be wrong on the Internet.
But it took a lot of wasted, agitated minutes to learn that it’s best to avoid Internet drama altogether.
Today, I’m not going to do that. Because I just can’t let this one go for some reason. And just when I thought the Internet was no longer capable of surprising me, the Internet went ahead and did just that.
A little backstory…
A woman named Katie Granju runs a site called Mamapundit. Let me begin by saying that I do not read Katie Granju. I do not follow her blog. But I do know that she lost a teenage son named Henry a few years ago in a most devastating manner. I am not sure how I know this, but I remember reading about it at my mom’s house at some point. I remember where I read it because I remember crying on my mom’s couch while trying to hide as much because I didn’t want to explain why I was crying. I was also knocked up and emotional.
I will say this much: it’s a horribly sad story. NO PARENT should lose a child.
So, a few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a post on Ms. Granju’s Facebook page. Basically, someone sent in a postcard to Postsecret.
For those who don’t want to click the above link, the shot is of the name “Henry” written in the sand. Written on top of the image is the following:
“I took two Percaset today a gift to myself on my birthday. They do not make me miss you less, my sweet baby boy. Love Mama.”
Anyway, Ms. Granju took to Facebook, twitter AND her personal Web site and began accusing the person of being “cruel and disturbed“.
Believing that this person was out to get her, she accused the person of being dumb for misspelling the word Percocet.
There were other hateful things as well. It got really ugly, really fast.
Some people suggested it was a coincidence, that another grieving mother lost a child named Henry. But Ms. Granju’s paranoia fueled her. She started to come up with conspiracies, suggesting that it had to be a hoax because her son is named Henry. She called him her “sweet baby boy” and it was her birthday as well. Henry also referred to her as “mama”.
Ok, so, let me interject. I’ve been there before. I mean, not right where she is; I have not lost a child. The mere thought makes me want to die. What I mean is, I’ve been to the point where I think EVERYONE is out to get me. We women have a knack for this. It’s usually in my real life, however. Not online. But I have been there. I used to not have any control over it. But now that I’m older, and I’ve experienced it enough (usually happens during certain hormonal times of the month, for what it’s worth) I can stop my brain from going to that dark, terribly selfish place. Not everything (in fact very little) is about me.
I do not fault her for feeling this way. But I do fault her for taking it to the Internet. I do fault her—a woman with many, many followers, some of whom are willing to attack ANYONE on her behalf—for taking her paranoia to Twitter, Facebook and her own site. This should have stayed with her, among her friends and family.
Well, as it turns out, the original sender of the postcard was indeed another grieving mother who lost a baby named Henry. And her name is Mindy Bizzell. She was forced to own up to her secret after so many of Ms. Granju’s followers questioned its originality. Everything Ms. Granju wrote about her, as well as all of the responses, got back to Mindy. She read that she was dumb and evil and cruel.
Can you imagine?
Even if the hateful comments didn’t have Mindy “the person” in mind, as the people leaving them felt they had a cruel liar in their midst, it still must hurt to read these things. It must hurt to know that people assumed you were making it all up, that your grief isn’t as genuine and real as you experience it. It must suck to see so many people assume the absolute worst instead of giving another individual the benefit of the doubt.
I left a comment on Ms. Granju’s facebook page the day it all happened. I used my real name, of course. I wrote that I was surprised she thought it was about her in the first place. But I was more surprised at how hateful people became without knowing even a morsel of the truth. I wrote some other stuff, stuff I would write again. Many people suggested that we shouldn’t assume the absolute worst, that it’s not always about us, that sometimes it’s just what it is.
I felt, given how ugly things started out, that they were moving in the right direction. We had an example of something go from ugly to positive, especially given Mindy Bizzell chimed in about pain, loss and forgiving people. It was really remarkable. And it’s too bad you can’t read it now because Ms. Granju erased everything.
We all make mistakes, some worse than others. We can learn from them, however. Other people can learn from our own, if we allow them to. Sadly, there is no record of any of this anymore. Ms. Granju even rewrote her blog post, or so I am told.
I keep asking myself, Why can’t you let this go? I still don’t have an answer. Perhaps I’m entering one of those hormonally imbalanced phases, who knows. But this irrationally upset me. I hate that everything was erased, swiftly. I wrote as much on Ms. Granju’s page once more, (Update: Page has been deleted by Ms. Granju.) saying that I felt she was irresponsible for doing that, trying to erase history when so many people are involved. But I’m also upset that so many people blindly backed her up when she originally posted her feelings about the postcard. Are we THAT cynical? Are we that willing to throw away common decency to blindly follow another person? So much so, we write hateful things about another without having ANY of the facts?
I guess that we are.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I tend to have a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to blogging popularity contests, cliques and the like. And what I watched unfold this week between Ms. Granju, her readers and Mindy Bizzell, well, it just added to my distaste. But I so want things to be better somehow. I want to be a better person as well, less cynical about it. I want people to step up and apologize for the RIGHT reasons. I want people to admit wrongness (which Katie finally did, a step in the right direction). I want readers to hold bloggers accountable for their actions.
I think it’s time to call others out when they abuse their popularity even if it makes you less popular, even if you lose followers. Because I bet you’ll gain a few as well.
But mainly I just want people to be nicer.
I am by no means better than the next guy. I have my FAIR share of issues and problems, insecurities and ugly traits. We all do. But please don’t let these issues cloud your judgement. Err on the side of grace. Give people around you the benefit of the doubt. The truth is always a lot simpler than what our brains lead us to believe.
I have had the pleasure of talking with Mindy since this all unfolded. She is a truly wonderful, strong, gracious woman. I wish her the very best. Mindy Bizzell suffered a tremendous loss and somehow, in spite of all that, has an insurmountable amount of grace.
Lastly (and unrelated simply because I watched this Mountain Goats video and I’m feeling a touch emotional): give someone a hug today, someone you haven’t hugged before. I bet they need it.