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Writing in the Digital Age: Beware of Bullies

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I started blogging for HuffPost three months ago. My first post was about shoes. I knew they were slightly controversial at the wedding I went to but when it comes to writing, I'm always surprised if anyone besides my mom reads my stuff. A few days later, AOL picked it up and put it on their home page. In between major news stories like the death of Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch and the latest on the John Edwards trial was a shot of my husband and me with the headline "It was Straight Up Harrassment." Talk about a debut!

Then, the shit storm rolled in. The blog received over half a million hits in the first day and there were plenty of comments to accompany that traffic. Many were lovely. Most were not. Since then, I've written about everything from cooking and baking and leaving my job and finding myself to S&M. Along the way, I gained both fans and enemies. And, I expected as much. I've done my share of blogging on big sites (usmagazine.com, theweddingchannel.com) and thought I was prepared for the negativity.

Writing in the digital age is an interesting concept. While you receive immediate gratification, you also allow instantaneous feedback. On one hand, there's the ability to communicate more readily with your followers; on the other are the haters. Two years ago, while reading the first comments on the aforementioned sites, I cried. Anonymity, it appears, breeds hatred. I was called ugly, told I needed a facelift and that I should spend more time fixing my face than on my writing. It apparently incites delusion as well. I was also informed I needed to lose 400 lbs. Yes, 400. If they had said 20 or 30, I might have been offended but over triple the amount of my actual weight was absurdly funny.

Over the years, I've grown a thicker skin and was prepared for some haters this time around. I just didn't realize how many and precisely how vitriolic they would be. In the past few months, I've been called shallow, stupid, sheltered, self-centered, a bad friend and a selfish civilian and those are the tame words. I've also been threatened and stalked. (Before I get more comments: I'm not playing the victim. I'm simply illustrating my experience to speak to a greater problem.) And, I know I'm not alone. For every hateful comment I've received, I'm sure there are just as many, if not more, out there for every other writer not to mention actor, singer, television personality, teacher, mother and kid.

As light-hearted as the shoe piece was meant to be, it became somewhat serious and far bigger than my Choos and me. I'm saddened by the negative comments. Not because I can't take it. I know a silly piece on shoes doesn't determine my value. I know my choice of words was intended in a playful and fun way. I know I donate a considerable amount of time, money and belongings to charity and my husband buying me a nice gift doesn't detract from that. I know I don't judge my loved ones or think I'm better than anyone. I know my family and friends are good people, love me and simply didn't agree with my taste in shoes and that's okay. But too see others, complete strangers, unleash the way they did on another (It wasn't just me, they attacked each other in the comments too!), was disheartening.

More recently, I wrote about my disappointment that a select group of Penn State fans were reacting selfishly and insensitively to the NCAA ruling. I understand it's an extremely sensitive topic. I knew writing even one word would evoke all kinds of emotion and was prepared for the difficult commentary. After all, my main goal as a writer (and reader) is to spark conversation and debate, to resonate with some and challenge others, to see differing sides and points of view and to gain a better understanding of myself, the world we live in and the people that inhabit it.

I believe in freedom of speech. I believe everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I believe that in order to receive the good, you must also accept the bad. I don't expect everyone to like or agree with me and welcome different points of view. But it's gone too far.

In addition to the cruel and harsh commentary, my background and personal information were brought into the fold, I was inundated with hate mail (everywhere I turned, every social site you can think of, plus my personal email account) and my family and I were threatened. But, I'm not so much scared for myself as I am for our country.

When we can't address issues, have a discussion, difference of opinion or express ourselves in a healthy, calm, mature manner, without resorting to name-calling, bullying and threats, we just escalate our problems. How are we to ever better ourselves and our society when topics arise and, instead of presenting our point of view in a clear, level-headed way, when instead of trying to see the other side, we erupt and lash out? How is that getting us anywhere? We complain about how politics and politicians turn us off with their smear campaigns and vendettas but are we really any better?

The amount of time and emotion complete strangers spend knocking others is depressing. I'm horrified at the level to which the hatred has risen. It's gravely misplaced. I'm certain that energy would be better served elsewhere, somewhere productive, somewhere positive.

I'm not getting on a soapbox, I'm simply saying: Let's be kinder to one another. Let's do away with the drama and conduct ourselves in a way we can be proud of. Let's take a deep breath, be the bigger person and give one another the benefit of the doubt. Let's vow to resolve instead of react. And, let's please step out from behind the computers and anonymous names and support each other. Life's hard enough without the haters.