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When What You Say Online Leads To An Offline Confrontation

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We’ve all met people through the Internet in either a personal or professional manner — sometimes even made friends. Internet users chat everyday about everything. Then one day, one person goes off — all the way off. I know I can be hotheaded about my opinions, but I’d never take a disagreement to the point where I would destroy the other person. The question is, what if someone you knew online did something offline with you face-to-face?

Writers on the Internet can seemingly bare their entire souls — almost act as if there is a public viewing of the brain of that individual. That doesn’t just apply to journalists, but to those who write in public journals. For me, I have found it is better to read one’s journal and/or any other pieces of work they have written to see whether it’s worth the communication in the first place.

I know it’s a bit judgmental to make a decision about someone based on their written word, but one can’t help but develop an opinion. The greatest decision you have to make after reading enough entries and articles is if you should comment on them in disagreement. People have to think about this long and hard — after all, the writing is on the monitor.

Let’s say that a person does make a comment and then suddenly has a strange encounter with that person offline. The best suggestion would be to simply talk. The person who observes their journal entries knows the risk they take in responding back. The rules are no different offline. Keep a cool head and make like you agree. Eventually, this individual will leave you alone for good, saving your neck and teaching you a lesson. Some people however, get it much worse.

Contact information is available on the Internet depending on whoever puts their information out there. If your comments are rather extreme on a particular issue (including comments about the writer), you could be getting a call from this individual. Let them get your address and suddenly you’ll find yourself with a court date for libel. Friends of mine have gone through this. It’s embarrassing and not pretty. Again, if a person takes it offline, keep a cool head. In this case, simply change your contact information or delete it altogether. That includes all MySpace pages and anything else public. But what if the individual decides on none of that? What if a person you merely met online by making a comment on an individual’s journal entry or article decides to try and kill you? Simple, you then get the police on them.

The idea in having an argument with someone via the Internet is to keep a record of every piece of email and/or correspondence you have. Especially important, do not delete your end of the conversation. It’s very easy for the opposing individual to make up emails or comments you made by simply using their word processor. If this fight happened on a website or forum, keep captures of the individual messages. This must be done quickly as the opposing party might actually delete those messages in favor of saving his own face. Lastly, simply wait. It’s a costly trip to the courtroom and many simply don’t feel the effort is worth it. That’s usually the end result of most threats of offline action against a person, nothing but inaction.

It may be just the Internet, but all threats must be taken seriously when it’s against your life. You as well as the opposing party have only one to live. Tread gently.

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About Matthew Milam

  • http://bacalar.blogspot.com Howard Dratch

    It can happen.

    Here in Mexico I no longer write about the local area as the repercussions turned violent. Personal animosity and anti-Americanism left my wife with an amputated leg after a near-death experience when she was intentionally run down by a speed boat while swimming and left to die in the lagoon.

    There were other tensions. There is a love here of the dollar, not of gringos. However, I no longer write a blog on the local area. Sociopaths have been allowed liberty by authorities who share their prejudices. They are unpredictable and dangerous.

    I have written much on this and not printed any of it. All the world can now access blogs and on-line stories with internet cafes, cheap computers and all-seeing search engines. Writing includes the bravery to open one’s soul but not to jeopardize their family.

    Just as the ‘net has had so much effect on copyright and the laws of intellectual property, it has also made anonymity seem a tempting veil that is not always functional.

  • Matthew Milam

    Does anyone have Howard’s email so I can send my condolences?