Warning: There’s a Game of Thrones spoiler at the end of this post. Read at your own risk.
I never really came clean about how I turned from active social media user to a semi-digital hermit. Something happened this week that reminded me why I chose to go back to the social media scene with a different approach. A lot of people still wonder why I have a personal Facebook account that I only use a few days a year and deactivate for the rest of the time. I have a work-only Facebook account that I use for liking brands, researching, saving links, and curating articles from websites that I like. Considering that I am a senior writer for an entertainment blog site like When in Manila and much of my professional work consists of promoting content online to as many readers as possible, I am not making much of an effort to gain a lot of followers again for this personal blog.
The truth is, I got tired of the prevalent judgmental, parinig-laden, and mob shaming culture that has become social media in the Philippines. You don’t confront people these days like adults. You just attack them with snide remarks on status updates and gain a tiny mob of friends who have time and are willing to make fun of the object of your scorn.
I am pregnant right now, and motherhood kind of forces a woman to grow up faster. You become responsible for another human being and it changes you and how you see the world.
Years ago, I was like that too. I was young and reckless. I would speak my mind and word vomit on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. A few months before I got married, all my accounts got hacked. At the time, I was gaining a lot of Twitter followers and had some traction in promoting this blog on its old Facebook page at the time. Some of the people I started out with in the blogosphere in 2010 are now pretty established and I am happy for them. On my end, I was not thinking things through, I was not careful about my online security and everything was wiped out. I only created a new Facebook account in 2014, a few days after I got married and I was paranoid enough not to add too many people in it. It was a hard lesson to learn but it was a good learning experience, nonetheless.
I tried going back to Facebook at the end of 2014 and use it normally again. ButI guess the tipping point that really made me shun my old way of doing things was when an ex-bestfriend self-destructed on Facebook through her mismanaged mental condition. It started small. At first, I was just disturbed by how she was spilling my secrets and taking my statements out of context on her Facebook posts by quoting me without my permission. Then she started liking all my photos and status updates and making a chat box out of the comments section. She added my Facebook friends, even those people she does not personally know. She made me very uncomfortable. I talked to her via PM requesting her to respect my privacy and not do things like quote me or take me out of context when I confide things to her. I stopped trusting her. It was painful because she was my friend since we were in fifth grade and I had to restrict her from my accounts. I was concerned for her. I was undergoing therapy myself and I did not see any reason not to invite her to join me to have therapy sessions so that she will stop humiliating herself on her Facebook wall. People message me and tell me how she is being the object of people’s talk during reunions. I tell her about it. I tell her to ease off on her social media usage but she kept on, posting 22 hours per day and beyond what was normal for even active social media users. She was also spending her time idolizing some guys and even making remarks like “I will rape you” on her Twitter account. It was super alarming.
I was wondering, too. This girl lives with her parents. Where are her parents? What is her family doing about this disturbing Facebook wall? Nobody from our schoolmates cared enough to talk with her. Ako lang yung naglakas ng loob to have some real talk with her. And when this whole thing exploded online, I was the bad person for doing so.
Despite the risk of being called a pakilamera to their family problems, I called up her older sister because I was worried about her. Her sister told me she was embarrassed with her sister’s posts on Facebook. I had support so I had therapy and I felt no shame admitting it. We were positive that I can take her to my therapist, too. Sadly, my friend took it the wrong way. The next day, she was making parinig on her Facebook wall. She chatted with people who hated me in high school, flirted with a guy that I dated before, and did her own version of a demolition campaign on her Facebook wall against me. Suddenly, she was buddies with the person who betrayed me in high school. Unlike the rest of us who are earning our keep, she did not have a job and she had all the time in the world to ruin me.
I am not entirely fault-free in this event. Because I was unwell, I commented back and it was a foul and long comment that humiliated her. I deeply regret na pinatulan ko yung mga parinig niya, not because she harmed me after but because I think I should have just quietly blocked her and move on from my life the way mature adults do. At the time, I was just as immature as she was. I should have handled it as maturely and gracefully as her sister did. I was the one with the therapy but I did not act any better. But I was not used to it and I felt like I needed to fight back.
After that single long comment full of vitriol, I blocked her on all of my accounts. She did not stop, though. I think she spent another month attacking me with full name dropping on her wall. It was a nasty falling out. She spent her birthday attacking me. People who do not know us well from our old school started messaging me about her posts after that. After I blocked her, I had enough grounds to file a police blotter against her at the time. She could have gone to jail if I took the time to file it in her barangay. We knew where she lived and it was not really that hard since I am married to a lawyer. We had screenshots of her posts and even witnesses from as far as Facebook users in Singapore. She even dissed me on her Twitter account. I spent my time reporting all of the posts mentioning my name but the damage has been done. Despite that, my husband and I decided not to press charges. We were both unwell. What good will it do, anyway? She goes to jail for what she did but it does not fix the fact that she irresponsibly used her social media to malign me and attack me.
For more than a year, I did not speak up about this even when our schoolmates wanted me to issue a statement. I only wrote about it now because it does not hurt anymore and I had a more objective look that also showed me what my faults were in this event.
To be fair, I was the one who made the irate comment and blocked her. After all, I truly considered her my friend and for all those years that I did, I don’t think putting her in jail is the solution to her clinical depression. (My concern for her well-being still stands and I genuinely wish her well.) So anyway, people who like the chismis feasted on all of my biggest and deepest and darkest secrets for a month or two because she used them and announced them on her Facebook wall after she got hurt that I blocked her. We had around a thousand common friends on Facebook because she previously added my friends who are not really her friends in real life. Even my husband’s lawyer friends saw her posts.
Here is an interesting thing: Out of the 1,000 common friends we had on Facebook, only three or four people messaged me with concern when she started the attacks on her Facebook wall. I figured there were also five others na biglang nangumusta sa akin and they were also concerned but did not know how to approach the subject.
Fortunately, my true friends did not buy all that crap she threw my way. They remain my friends up to this day even if it’s hard to talk to me with my hermit ways. And contrary to what she said that I only had five real friends, it turned out that I had so much more. 🙂 Hundreds. Offline. Her attacks helped filter out the true ones. 🙂
We went our separate ways. Months later, a favorite teacher of ours died and I submitted photos for the ceremony, pictures with her and our teacher during our wedding. Those were happy days, after all. Days after, she reached out and followed my husband on Instagram. We were scared. We did not want her to attack us again, so we blocked her. We couldn’t take any chances. She may have had her therapy and that’s good, but I can’t go back for sure. It is one thing to forgive a person but it is another to trust them again. You don’t say mean and insulting things like “Ako lang ang nagtitiyaga sayo na friend mo” on your wall, tell them about my illness and therapy, and expect me and my husband to just forget about it. It was already enough that I did not press any legal action.
The truth is, I had more real friends and it goes beyond Facebook. I hated Facebook after that. I hated what it did to her and to our friendship. At the time, the feature where Facebook can confront a depressed or mentally disturbed friend was not yet available. It came in too late. That was February 2015. The feature for depressed Facebook users came in a few weeks later, I think.
April 2015 was the month I decided to contribute articles to When in Manila. It was one of the happy days of my life then. I was recovering from my depression and my major falling out with my ex-bestfriend. I thought I was already safe now that I blocked this girl from my accounts. I was wrong. I started posting things to market my new When in Manila articles. There were naturally injected hashtags from the brands and I needed to make them for the sponsors, specifically for sponsors in the Boracay trip I made with my sister in law.
Another “good friend” from media took offense at my posts. She spent around 6 weeks mocking my Instagram captions and like the other girl, used her Facebook account to make parinig. She even used to tag her gym buddies para pagtulungan ako in the comments section. I knew it was me. She made sure I knew it, subtle as her digs were. My husband kept telling me I was just being sensitive but she’s a smart writer and she just did it out of spite or something.
Unlike my other unemployed ex-friend, this girl had a kickass job as a writer and was even taking a gruelling master’s degree. I consider her among my nearest and dearest. I read all of her blog posts. I was a fan and a friend at the same time. I was really hurt and shocked when she did this to me because I even introduced her to the guy who eventually became her longtime boyfriend. I did not really mean to hurt her with my posts but she took offense at them anyway. We were VERY CLOSE. She was the type who my parents adore and love to talk with. It was not just surface friendship! She could have just easily messaged me on Facebook and called me out about my “bothersome” posts but she chose to humiliate me publicly instead. Who gets offended with hash-tagged captions about Boracay’s sand and a bed and breakfast hotel? I actually needed to do it for the article because my gracious hosts requested it.
I was really hurt because she took a swipe at each sponsored post and made fun of me. I know that there is a not-so-secret gap between journalists and bloggers, but I never imagined that she of all people would fall for that at the expense of our friendship. After that, she still texts me nonchalantly like she did nothing of the sort. I treasured this friend since 2006 pa, but I decided to block her on Instagram and Facebook so that I won’t have to see how she twists her captions to hurt me deliberately. I was close to her boyfriend, too. But I decided that I did not need this kind of bullying behavior anywhere near me. This time, I made no more comments confronting her like I did to my other friend. I just stopped meeting with her. I just stopped reaching out and that was the end of another long-term friendship. We both let it fizzle out. It’s really hard to go back after that kind of falling out.
You know, when people end romantic relationships, they have enough excuses to buy themselves ice cream and binge and bitch about it to their girl pals. But when decades of friendship crumble because of irresponsible Facebook usage, you don’t have as much liberty to grieve about it. So I spent my time offline paying my respects to my dead friendship and thinking about what I need to change to stop these things from happening again. Facebook is supposed to CONNECT people, not break them into pieces.
I took a long and hard look at my relationships at the time. There were just three things in my head then: I was a bad friend. I had horrible close friends. I trust too easily. (Or it was a bit of everything, I guess.)
So I focused on writing for When in Manila and it’s been thirteen months of meeting new awesome people. I found something that genuinely makes me feel fulfilled and happy. I made new friends who understood the social media marketing aspect of writing. I found people who don’t judge me. I found people I can safely tell my secrets to. The world became good again. I found something that works. I regularly met with people I can be my real self with. Life has been pretty good. And things became stable enough to allow me and my husband to become soon to be parents. My therapy sessions eventually stopped because I learned to manage myself better. I have no more medications and it was a change for the better. I have so much to thank for these days. And I had so much time to think.
Recently, I supported a friend’s project. He made an app called Lifebit. It was a quest-based diary of your life. I figured that I had a chance to start over with my social media experience using Lifebit. I started using it this year and the experience has been really good. Walang basagan ng trip dito. There were quests and you get points when you do the tasks on the quest. Gamified life logging. It was really fun to use and I FELT SAFE for the first time in years. No random bullying or picking of fights. No nitpicking. No spilled life secrets. No drama.
Since I am on bedrest during my first trimester of pregnancy, I had time to watch some really good TV shows. There was “What is the best moment on TV this week?” quest on Lifebit where you are actually allowed to relay your favorite scene. I got hooked with Game of Thrones recently and I answered that quest after watching the latest episode on HBO. Imagine my shock when I got another parinig post on Lifebit about how they hate spoilers. First of all, the quests were fair game. I wish they had that feature where you can choose not to view “TV Fan” quest posts so that you will be free from spoilers. Even my own friend who created the app makes a lot of spoilers on most of my favorite TV shows because he watches them ahead of me, and I never took offense cause it’s part of the quest or game. It’s not the end of the world when you find out about it. When it was my turn to do the quest, I got a backlash? Why? Is it because I am not “cool enough”?
Granted, I could have delayed my post by 3 or 4 more days in consideration for the other users. But what I don’t understand is that the person felt compelled to make parinig instead of use the private, discreet, and maturely adult Chat button to say “Hi Helen, can you hold off on the Game of Thrones quest spoiler?” I could have apologized to her immediately and made adjustments on my TV Fan quests for her. (But seriously, if they did not want spoilers at all, they could have just erased that feature and not have that as a quest task. It’s part of the game anyway. You have a realtime log of your Lifebit photos, supposedly.) I hardly knew anything about this person but that single post of parinig was more than enough motivation for me to keep my distance. I did not really know I had to walk on eggshells even on some startup social media app where I have less than 50 followers. Yet, here we are. The worse part? She has a young kid. This kid is probably emulating what she sees in her parents, absorbing the very dregs of this immature stance and growing up thinking it’s the norm. And this is what she sees: passive aggressive attacks, directionless rants, mob mentality, and zero mature conversations.
Having a baby on the way makes you feel SCARED for the future more than most people. You want the best possible environment for your child. You encounter people like this online and you just pray that things will turn out okay for your little one when he or she goes out into the world. This world is the one he or she is going to meet soon and what can I do to protect him or her from this whole circus? I can’t keep my little one away from the computer for far too long.
If these events do not compel you to rethink your social media choices, I don’t know what will. Have we really turned into online savages this time? When you feel upset, do you really need to make parinig on your status instead of confront the concerned people directly? Does everyone really have to know about that douchebag who dissed you at work today, the asshole who made your job difficult today, or that know it all in your life who brags without balls? If you keep on making that person the subject of your posts, what an uninteresting life you have. You cannot even deal with your shit and you use social media as your public toilet bowl. GET A BLOG OR SOMETHING.
What is so bad about directly calling out someone for his or her bullshit anyway? That’s what mature adults are supposed to be known for. Some people, on the other end of the spectrum, call you out on your bullshit in broad daylight. They seem to enjoy the attention and publicly shame you. I don’t know about these people, but I think the direct messages and chat boxes exist precisely to call out people on their bullshit without humiliating them. Retain the humanity and dignity of that person, at least.
After this week’s incident, I sadly realized that it’s not the platform. It’s the PEOPLE using the platform who choose to have an automatic response of attacking people and things passive aggressively on their social media accounts. They choose savage methods instead of opting for a mature direct confrontation. It’s people’s PERSONAL CHOICES to use social media in this way that leads to falling out of even basic online civil relationships. That even if you had something as properly designed as Lifebit, you still cannot ensure that you will not be harmed by random strangers whose timelines you follow. This, I no longer miss on Facebook. This, I do not support at all.
I used to join the mayhem. I liked posts of people who like making passive aggressive statements. I make my own parinig whenever I want before I got hacked. That was years ago, before all this crap happened. I used to contribute my own brand of vitriol in this super judgmental social media age. Not anymore. I’m so DONE with it. I wish that hacker who hacked me will hack all the accounts who make toxic poisonous environments out of social media networks. I can’t keep on living like that and raise a child with that kind of behavior anymore. It takes so much courage to look at what you really are as a person and make the necessary change. For me, it has to go, along with the juvenile things and behavior I had in the past. I want my kid to stand a better chance at life and the change begins here and now.
And here we are, wondering why the progress of this country is at a snail’s pace. We cannot even conduct our own affairs properly and we expect big changes to happen?
Certainly, I will stop posting on Lifebit about my favorite TV shows given that one incident so as not to be on the receiving end of another parinig post. It’s fine. You hate spoilers and I value you as a person. I just do not like how you served that preference instead of have the balls to directly talk to me about it.
But my time for silence regarding this issue is over. It’s time to speak up against these bullies and immature people who think that just because they have a gadget and a platform, it already gives them a right to create a mob, belittle others, and pass value judgments on even neutral things like hashtags of a Boracay vacation.
I don’t care that much about your fancy vacation, your family photos, your international hard-to-pronounce scholarships, your high end product collection, your master’s degree, your favorite food porn posts, the artistas and influential people you rub elbows with, and the “perfect life” you paint yourself to have on your account. It’s your business and you can make a shrine out of your wall for all I care. But when you cannot even do basic things for human beings like maturely call out on someone’s bullshit through discreet means like messaging, you are not worth anything to me. Kahit ano pang title ang meron ka sa pangalan mo, it does not matter if you use your account to mistreat people or do some unjust power tripping at other people’s expense. I may have spoiled a single episode of your favorite show. But you spoil social media with your existence in it. UNCLE BENJEN STARK IS ALIVE. DEAL WITH IT.
The world does not end. The world goes on. The online vitriol continues. But it leaves with a haunting question that I think every person ought to answer at some point in time: how nasty are you willing to get on social media? Can you really take a cold, hard, and long look at yourself in the mirror and tell the future generations that you did everything in your capacity to make this world a better place? You need not look far or make life-changing discoveries to do so. Even a small decision not to contribute additional crap in this already poisoned universe is enough.