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Virtual Reality

Posted: 02/08/08 11:31 AM ET

My entire livelihood is a product of the digital age. I became a professional eBay seller over seven years ago, and I basically owe my expatriate lifestyle to the wonders of technology. I love my laptop (most days.) That said, I have recently become a little nervous about some of the ramifications of our google-happy world. And more than a little dismayed at how the anonymity of the internet can prompt presumably intelligent and fair-minded individuals to become total lemmings, leaping off the cliffs of common sense without nary a look down.

I googled myself the other day. Come on, we all do it. Granted, I do it a little more these days, because I have an upcoming book, and I have turned into my own online stalker. But anyway, the other day this site ThePurseForum comes up as like the sixth or seventh response under my name. As my memoir is about my adventures reselling Hermes Birkin bags, this makes perfect sense, and initially I was thrilled. And sure enough, there it was when I linked, a cheerful and excited mention of my book starting off the thread, alerting forum members to its upcoming release. But as I read on further, i was amazed.

You see, there was one woman in this forum that bought a scarf from my eBay business a number of years ago. Long story short, she doesn't like me, claiming all sorts of issues with me as a seller. (I have 99.6 percent feedback on eBay, if that means anything to you. I'll just say simply that you can't make some people happy.) I also happen to know, through my connections and knowledge of this industry, that there are a couple of other women in this forum that are resellers. They don't like me either, presumably because I am their competition.

Well, these few screen names, working together, were able to drag me through the virtual mud so badly I felt like I needed a shower after reading the entries. I made a user name, identified myself as Michael Tonello, (instead of hiding behind some luxury-related "nom de plume" like the rest of them) and tried to convey the unfairness of the situation, gave my side of the story, encouraged the other forum members to contact me directly, etc, all to little avail. The Hermes herd was already in full revolt, and all you could do was try not to get trampled by the gold-plated hooves.

I still think some of these PurseForum people will buy my book regardless of what they read in that ludicrous thread--they eat, breathe, and sleep for these Birkin bags and for Hermes items in general. But this whole episode made me realize what kind of anonymous defamation is now possible in our age. Because next week, and the week after that, and ad infinitum, this essentially authorless piece of drivel about me will come up under my name in google. Today's society rag doesn't end up lining birdcages anymore....it is a bird of prey itself, forever circling through cyberspace.

I was telling my friend this story, and she told me how the only thing that comes up under one of her friend's names on google is this bitter online tirade an ex-suitor made, falsely claiming that this girl has herpes. This poor girl is convinced that many of her promising first dates never turn into second ones because of this. Maybe yes, maybe no, but the potential is certainly there. Websites like dontdatehimgirl.com are a soapbox for unhappy women to post intimate and vitriolic diatribes against men they have found unsuitable. The lawsuits are beginning, but we are truly at the tip of the iceberg with all this. Because the reality is, who has the time and energy to go around suing everyone who makes a nasty blog or chatroom insinuation? Not this guy. But hey, all publicity is good publicity, right? Right.

 

Follow Michael Tonello on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thebirkin