Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Trust and the Internet

My last post got me thinking about trust. Generally, except for the very cynical among us, we assume that people are who they say they are, even on the internet. I don't mean 'Hotlips27' or variations thereof, who seem to spend their time spreading vitriol and bile on random internet forums, but people like you and me, people with blogs, who are part of a community.

You know I'm a middle-aged Mother of two, with two daughters. You know my name and what I look like. Or do you? Well, yes actually, because I'm not a liar. There are things you don't know about me and that's fine, but I don't make up other things to take their place. To twist something I wrote in this post, everything you read about me is true, but you can't read everything true about me.

Suppose though, that I was actually a seventeen year old boy? Would you still take the same meaning from the words I've written? Of course you wouldn't because you wouldn't know which were true and which were lies. It's easy to tell you to focus on the words and not the writer but I truly believe the two are linked. I know Talli Roland is a sassy blonde author because that's what her picture, and her words, tell me. If she was really a fifty year old bloke I'd feel cheated. There's nothing wrong with fifty year old blokes. I read blogs written by men, I'm sure some of them are somewhere near that age, but none of them are pretending to be a cute blonde female. (Sorry Talli, you happened to be the first name I thought of, I hope you don't mind).

My default setting is basically optimistic. I will always believe people are good and honest until they prove otherwise. (Sometimes they get several goes at proving it, too). I believe all the blogs I read are by people who are who they say they are. If I found out differently, I suspect that any pleasure I'd gained from their writing would be lost, and yes, in some small way, I'd feel betrayed. If people want to be anonymous, awesome, go for it; If they want to give themselves a different name then that's great too, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people who tell lies – not comedic exaggeration, not faulty memory, but lies. It's one of the reasons I get upset when I find out memoirs are not true. I won't rehash old stories but there's a huge difference between 'I may not remember the exact order of events, who said what or even who was there', and 'this is completely untrue, it never happened, but it will spice my story up'. There's a word for those stories, they're called fiction.

I'm not sure if I've explained this as well as I might, and maybe I'm over-sensitive in this day and age, but If we don't trust the writer, how can we trust the words?

For the record, I believe in every single person whose blog I read, otherwise I wouldn't be reading their blog :)


  1. "...If we don't trust the writer, how can we trust the words?"


    I'm with you on trust -- it's my default mode. Not that I'm gullible, or easily taken advantage of, because I'm not. I just choose to take people at their word until I have good reason not to.

  2. Interesting! Someone told me recently that I come over as "assertive" on the internet. I do not think I am assertive in real life - I tend to shy away from arguments. That makes me wonder, even when we tell the truth do we sometimes unintentionally give the wrong impression? Or is it that we are not the people we think we are?
    There is no answer to that of course.

  3. OOH now you've me thinking. Absolutely. Wait, you're not a seveteen-year-old boy, are you? :D

  4. I feel the same way about memoirs ... if one I read turned out to have fabricated parts, I get upset. It's just the fact that I BELIEVED them, and they lied. It upsets me.

  5. Linda - Trust does make the world a better place to live, doesn't it?

    Cat - Welcome! I've been following you for a long time now and I see you as someone who would shout from the rooftops to help someone else, but forget to take care of yourself. I could, of course, be totally wrong!

    Christina - Thank you for visiting and I promise you I'm not!

    Katie - Oh yes, it's like they set out to make fools of us, isn't it?

  6. I like the truth and I like fiction - I also like to know which one I'm getting.

  7. ...I struggle to believe many of the memoirs I read. And one or two in particular, (nope, won't name names:) have been debunked as falsifying many events following publication and a healthy stint atop the charts.

    I'm not a fifty-something bloke, but I'm getting there:)


  8. Patsy - Indeed, you'd think it would be a simple request wouldn't you?

    Elliot - Welcome to you. I know a couple you're talking about. I guess any publicity is good publicity to some people. I have to ask btw, is that picture on your blog of your home? It's absolutely beautiful!

  9. So true there has to be a level of trust as a basis. I once visited the website of a man from my OU online writing course whose pic showed him to be 17 yrs old and we all posted to say what a great site/pic of himself he had. He replied 'thanks' and yet when our group finally met him, he was a large 50 yr old and he had rto adnit then that the pic had been his son! Weird huh! :O)

  10. I agree, there is a level of trust involved. We have to trust ourselves, too, in following our own interpretations and assumptions from others' writing. Interesting topic today!

  11. Very interesting and I love your line..."If we don't trust the writer, how can we trust the words?" It's true.
    HAve a wonderful weekend!

  12. I think on the internet we actually feel that little bit safer behind our computer screens and soemtimes share more than we would have in a real life meaning. Sometimes there is too much trust.

    The internet is an amazing tool. I've made some great friends through it and I imagine I will make many more. But there is a flip side. People can take advantage of the anonimity. Either by pretending to be something they are not, or by believing it is a safe place to vent all and sundry.

    I think you have hit it on the head Sarah. What we know about you is the truth, but we don't know every truth about you.

    You do know that Rebecca is a pen name though don't you? (It's a safety precaution for my day job) The me that speaks and the photographs are still me. :)

  13. Madeleine - That's kind of creepy! I wonder if his son knew?

    Joanne - Good point. I think that's a follow on from Cat's observation that how we see ourselves may not be how others see us.

    Christine - thank you. I agree, trust is all we have.

    Rebecca - I didn't know Rebecca was a pen name, but it doesn't matter. Like you said 'the me that speaks', that's the true you.

  14. It wasn't done in secret either, I used to Tweet and blog in my real first name and changed it in about November last year and announced the change and the reasons why.

    It's not done with any malicious intent.

  15. Rebecca, I read your posts. I imagine that work is why most people choose a pen name. Isn't it funny, I can't picture you as anything but Rebecca as that's who you were when I 'met' you :)

    I love your last line - maybe it's my optimistic default thing but it would never ever occur to me that you would have any malicious intent!


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