A long time ago I realized even having a completely clean persona, one was vulnerable to attacks online. In fact, back then I was actually more vulnerable to trolls, because I went into 1) “What did I do to deserve this?” mode and 2) People root for the underdog, even if the underdog is scum. They’re inclined to look at a troll and try to take what they say seriously, even after seeing those same trolls openly lie and slander and bully elsewhere.
Nowadays, my online persona is that of “asshole,” and this is not wholly unmerited. I’ve bullied plenty of people on the Internet – those comment threads are everywhere, you need only look if you haven’t seen them. I’ve deleted comments which people have put much time and effort into because I got ticked off at their tone (talk about hypocrisy). There are plenty of curse words and downright vicious insults against bloggers, politicians, famous people and just regular people all over my writings. I’ve pleaded for attention and spammed like crazy. I don’t cite my sources nearly as well as I should – I give credit, but nowhere near enough compared to the amount I write. And then there’s that insanely pompous attitude all my writings and comments have, like as if I know better than everyone, like as if I’m actually in dialogue with the authors I discuss.
The thing I think Amber’s post doesn’t quite get is that it seems to say public/private personas are merging in some way, perhaps a way that is wholly new. I think that what’s happening is that a lot of us, now that we’re instantly published, are simply learning to forge public personas the hard way – you can’t be squeaky clean, not if you want influence. If you want popularity, yes, you can be squeaky clean, like the bloggers who write on blogging. Everyone in that little world is nice and kind and writes articles a 12 year old can understand and that’s great.
But such popularity comes at the cost of identity. The author of one post sounds exactly like the author of another. And then there’s being too “moderate,” like Klein’s above post on how many orations he’s heard that are great – he has a distinct voice, to be sure, but should anyone take that voice seriously? Klein is aiming for influence, but perhaps one that is too self-centered. There needs to be something more he gives first, I think, and there are probably two sorts of influence – one is where the idea comes with a person or author attached to it, the other is where the idea or question matters that much more than the vehicle.
There might be a benefit to being an “asshole:” it could demonstrate implicitly that one is willing to sacrifice having people’s respect for bringing readers something incredibly important. It’s so important that one doesn’t even care if it helps the reader immediately or helps the author, i.e. the sort of instant realization of utility and reciprocation that drives many popular blogs. All that matters is that thinking and questioning start anew, and in an age where even professors are paid (by us) to tell us what we want to hear (when not teaching wholly practical skills), unpopularity of a sort may be the only true way to convey import.