On the Nature of Internet Friendship

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Picture licensed via corsairstw from everystockphoto.com

 

The way I make friends has changed since my days of wearing a school uniform and playing out in parking lots. I don’t have the safety net of a college campus and I don’t work in an office, so my circle of friends consists of two categories: People I meet through retreats and church-related activities and people I meet through the internet.

Internet friendship is a tricky thing. On the one hand, the internet gives off the illusion of safety. You don’t have to deal with small talk, it’s easier for you to find people who share a common interest, and since they don’t know the people in your real life, you can vent to them about anything. On the other hand, the internet is also forever and if a friendship goes wrong, it can backfire in the worst ways, such as rumors being spread about you, your secrets being leaked out to complete strangers, and your entire reputation being ruined by posting the wrong picture on the wrong social media outlet.

Usually, when I’m on the internet, I don’t talk about family issues or give away private information. But in spite of the dangers and risks, I still feel close to my internet friends as much as I do to my friends in real life. My fellow Patheos bloggers and I, for example, have an amazing camaraderie. They’re all willing to dispense of advice and I learn so much from them. I also know that I can always count on them to pray for me. The same goes for the Catholics I met through Tumblr and Facebook. Through them, I learn that even though we are Catholic, we may not agree on everything. I learn about forming my own opinion on things and not just go with the crowd the way I did in high school and college. If it wasn’t for the internet, I wouldn’t be writing on this blog or for the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship. I’m constantly challenge to learn more and write more through these new avenues.

But the strangest place I’ve found friendship is through my Instagram accounts. Yes, accounts. As in more than one. I’m such an Instagram addict that I have multiple accounts. Tumblr is okay, but I find myself spending less and less time on there because of the hive mind nature of the site. It’s through fan accounts on Instagram that I found a safer environment for expressing my love for my #1 fandom Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most of the people I’m friends with on Instagram are younger than me and they live all over the world, but we all share a love for Buffy even though we may disagree on minor things. Mostly shipping.

Sometimes, I open up about my faith on there and everyone was surprisingly okay with it. Nobody judged me or saw me as being closed-minded. And I’ve even said that I was against gay marriage and followed all the teachings of the Church. In spite of whatever differences we have in our beliefs, I’m always there for my friends and whenever I need them, they come around for me.

It was through my internet friends that I managed to get out of an anxiety attack that I had a few months ago. Granted, Tumblr (and college campuses everywhere) have turned the phrase “trigger warning” into an excuse to make everything into a Political Correctness case, but many people talk about their serious and real anxieties on the internet because they have nowhere else to go. My anxiety got triggered because someone I used to consider my best friend tried contacting me again.

I used to think that having a best friend meant having someone you can talk to about everything and go places and do things with. But that’s not always the case. The person I used to consider my best friend had their own problems and ended up almost dragging me down with them. Worst of all, they act like everything’s fine and nothing ever happened even though I’m still left with the emotional scars.

It’s a bit like this awesome Taylor Swift song:

And yes, Taylor, band-aids don’t fix bullet holes. Real friends do.

When I had that anxiety attack (the first time in almost two years), my internet friends from Patheos and Instagram came to my rescue with prayers and reassurances. I prayed harder than ever in spite of my entire body shaking and knew that I wasn’t alone. Some of my fellow Patheos bloggers understood the pain because they’ve experienced it before. My Instagram friends said that I was brave to walk away from that toxic friendship. A few episodes of Buffy and a major stream of prayers later, I calmed down and found peace.

A few months later, one of my Instagram friends opened up about being cyber-bullied and shared a picture of himself crying. I gathered my fellow Instagram friends to show him our support and asked some of my friends online to pray for him. The prayers and emotional support paid off as my friend came back, undeterred by the cyber-bullies.

I don’t exactly evangelize on my fan Instagrams the way that other Catholic Instagrams do except for when I post on my personal Instagram, but I still feel like I’m reaching out to my internet friends in a way. The internet and our fandoms bring us together in a reflection of the Mystical Body of Christ and someday, I hope to see them, either in real life or in Heaven.

Why I Really Don't Like Hashtag Activism

If you can’t tell by how often I post on here, I basically live on the internet. I’m a self-proclaimed Instagram addict, I frequent Tumblr, I always post on Twitter, and I talk to more people through Facebook than in actual face-to-face conversation.

So when the internet inevitably blows up with hashtags about current events, I find myself thinking about this video from BlimeyCow:

Just replace “liking the Facebook page” and “wearing the t-shirt” with “copying the latest hashtag” and “posting about the news on Instagram” and you pretty much have the definition of “hashtag activism.”

I’ve experienced a few hashtag activism events in the past few years. The most infamous one being what I call the “Wendy Davis Incident of Tumblr 2013.” One major downside to being on Tumblr is that the longer you’re on the site, the more you start to realize that the site is a hive mind. And said hive mind comes in the form of embracing a distorted version of social justice and constant refrains of “check your privilege.” Anyone that doesn’t fit into their Alice-in-Wonderland version of right and wrong is called a bigot and any post that disagrees with their mindset usually gets reblogged with a lot of replies that boil down to “let me show you how wrong you are.” Julie Borowski talks about this in one of her videos:

Currently, there are two hashtags that really irritate me. One relates to the current riots in Baltimore over a black young adult who died while in police custody. Is it just me or are they all starting to blend together? Cop shoots black kid or black person dies from some kind of cop violence, black kid is innocent, riots and protests ensue, people hate cops. I’m getting stick of this! And what’s not helping things are social media invites to “purge.”

purgebaltimore

For those who don’t know, the term “purge” comes from the awful movie series that centers around one night where crime is legal. In the world of social media, “purge” has become the new way of saying “riot.” And sadly, even the best and brightest young adults of social media see these riots as justified. To quote someone I used to follow on Twitter: “Riots are the language of the unheard. Are you listening?” When I shared this with a fellow online friend, he replied with: “Riots are the language of people who want to riot. Can you hear glass breaking? Also, has she ever heard of Kristallnacht? There was some rioting there.”

My friend Cordelia said this:

I hate Hashtag Activism. It’s good for things with require a brief spurt (like the TwitterBowl for the Chris Evans/Pratt hospital stuff. It would end in about a week, no matter what), but it fizzles out long term. Society must “trend”. What’s the buzzword of the day. Is it “Feminism” is it “Problematic” is it “Liamisthepoolcleaner” There is no steadiness. And that’s something ANY movement needs. And all of this isn’t to say that there ARE no issues. Racism is clearly still a problem. So is Feminism, whether first or third world countries. But there are wide divides between “Calling out” behavior (which might not even be calling it out and just straight up bullying” and manufacturing an issue.

Hashtags are… useful. They truly are. They can be a way to connect people. But they can also be used to say “I support something” but never put anything concrete forward. This works for things like TV shows and spreading news from places which you can’t visit, or even for something national but ethereal like mourning over someone’s death. But to use it to promote change can’t always work. People either get swept up in the excitement and the dismissal of anyone “Behind the curb” or it fizzles out through it’s own exhaustion. That being said, it can promote change too. But those are always minor or on the fence anyway.

The worst thing is that, being a semi-citizen of tumblr, part of this hashtag activism also involves many people quoting a line from Mockingjay: “If we burn, you burn with us!” For crying out effing loud, this is not Panem and society is not President Snow. I actually read the Hunger Games trilogy and you are taking that line completely out of context! With franchises such as Hunger Games, Divergence, Maze Runner, and The 100, it makes me think that young adults almost want an apocalypse to happen just so that they can have an excuse to rage against the establishment. Once again, all the stories start blending together.

And to think, almost a month ago, my biggest complaint about the internet was everyone fighting over a god-awful dress.

The other hashtag that’s really bugging me is #LoveMustWin, the hashtag relating to the Supreme Court possibly making gay marriage legal nationwide. Here’s the thing: the people who created this hashtag don’t even know what love really is! Love is not just “oh I want to marry this person and be with them for the rest of my life.” There is a bigger love involved: God’s love. I also hate how forceful this hashtag sounds. Like love must win at any cost, even at the expense of imposing on those who don’t agree with you.

Being asexual, Cordelia had this to say about #LoveMustWin:

Catholics, are by our very nature “Problematic” to the modern viewpoint. We are very much against racism and so on, but fight against modern feminism with our insistence that male and female are equal and different which runs uncomfortably against Brown vs Board of education’s “Separate but equal” even if they are different.

Not to mention the even internal debates over gender identity and our current debate over Queerness and how some well meaning Catholics do come across as homophobic even if they do not intend to be. But by being against Gay Marriage in the first place we are automatically “Homophobic” and anyone who does not fit into the idea is ostracized. This INCLUDES Queer Catholics who agree/disagree on various issues.YES Love must win… but not that love. God’s love. Which is not necessarily Romantic love, no matter who designs it that way. (INCLUDING the Church. There’s a lot of bride/groom imagery which doesn’t always work.) This isn’t a heresy deal. And some of us do not get it. Or drift to other ideas of love due to various sexual natures. Why do other queers have such a narrow definition of A)What it means to be queer and B)what you HAVE to support if you’re queer?

I’m gonna be offering my Divine Mercy Chaplet to everything going on right now. If there’s anything the world needs to understand right now, it’s the concept of mercy.

Speaking of which, my latest post for the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship Mercy Study is up. Read it here. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a previous study and ask that if you’re gonna be on the internet discussing current events, do so with compassion and mercy towards everyone.

Compassion and mercy are often affiliated with each other because it takes an understanding of suffering and a desire to alleviate one’s suffering in order to be merciful. It’s not always easy, obviously. More often than not, we get angry and make snap judgments. Sometimes, compassion and mercy are the furthest thing from our minds. But the key here is sympathy, having the ability to understand another person. Once we put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, having compassion and mercy for them becomes a bit easier.

 The image shared is from Heavy.com and was used for editorial purposes only.