“when the web was younger, Twitter wasn’t even a thing and blogging was the rage, I was playing around in the blogosphere and one day posted a few drawings made by my son, who was 5 or 6 at the time. Friends left enthusiastic comments, as you do. Then the grandparents got wind of this and they wanted to see ALL the drawings. So, I created a new blog exclusively devoted to my little artist.
People told people and next thing you know, the adorable little art blog got a mention on one of the most popular websites of the day. Thousands — tens of thousands — of people flocked to the blog. Comments were kind, until one well-meaning someone suggested I put my son’s art on T-shirts and sell them. I had no intention of doing anything of the sort, but that didn’t matter. Someone misread the comment, assumed I wasselling T-shirts and took me to task for exploiting my kid and making a fast buck off of his sudden internet fame.
Well. Things got ugly fast. In the space of a day, I went from an indulgent dad to a monster parent running a one-child sweat shop. People who didn’t know me called me every name in the book; some threatened to call social services, or the police, or my boss. Others claimed my son didn’t exist at all and that I was some kind of con man. All of these concerned citizens told me how ashamed I should feel to invent and/or exploit my son. I actually started to feel ashamed, even though I wasn’t guilty of anything (except perhaps extravagant naivete).
Luckily, by the end of the week, people found a new outrage to fuss over and my brief and bitter taste of cyberbullying was over. It left an impression, though, I’ll tell you that. Mostly, I was horrified. But I was also awestruck by how quickly a group of people could wield the old cudgel of shame, and by how impactful this ancient social tool still is. I’m sure many of you have experienced it for yourself, suffering much more than I ever did. Shame is a potent weapon, folks, as Timothy Meinch’s story on page 38 illustrates. If you must use it, use it wisely.
As for my son? He never saw the threats or nasty comments. He shamelessly continued to pursue his art in life and in school. In fact, he graduated college this semester, so yes, he exists. I’ve got the tuition bills to prove it.
I don’t know. Maybe I should have sold T-shirts.
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