When cowards hide behind digital walls and hurl grenades...

Someone did something rotten to me a few weeks ago.

A person who I have never met but who performs in the same New York storytelling community as me, who knows many of the same storytellers that I do, and who was connected to me via Facebook, decided to block me.

I didn’t notice. Though I post to Facebook regularly, I don’t routinely scroll my feed. Even if I did, I have more than 1,300 Facebook friends and 1.400 fans. It’s unlikely I would’ve noticed the departure of someone who I had never actually met.

Once I was blocked and unable to see any of her content, she wrote a scathing post about me. 

Already disenchanted with me (thus the block), this person had seen my post on an NYC storytelling group promoting my monthly author newsletter (which includes storytelling tips), and this had apparently sent her over the edge. She took to Facebook, calling me, among other things, obnoxious, egotistical, self-important, average, and “Mr. Full of Himself.”

She didn’t name me directly but included enough biographical info to make it perfectly clear it was me. “Produces his own show.” “Published author.” Multiple Moth StorySLAM winner. Other details very specific to me.  

There was no doubt over who she was writing about.

It was a cruel and scathing post that painted me as a self-absorbed, opportunistic narcissist who treats the storytellers in my shows with contempt. She called for someone in the community to “sit me down” and inform me that I’m “not all that.”

“He needs to STOP,” she wrote.   

There were also factual inaccuracies in the post. Some of her accusations were simply untrue. She was criticizing circumstances that she did not fully understand.

All of this was upsetting, but I’m a grown man. I can accept criticism, as unfounded and unhinged as it may be. After a decade of publishing novels, magazine columns, podcasts, and a blog, in addition to performing on stage hundreds of times around the world and writing and producing my own musicals, I’ve received my share of criticism. I can accept that. I’ve grown a very thick skin.

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But there’s one important difference here.

Because this person blocked me on Facebook before posting her diatribe, I could not see (and would never see) this otherwise public post that was fully visible to my colleagues, friends, competitors, and business partners in the storytelling community. Rather than addressing me directly or posting something on the public network that I could also see, she attacked me behind my back. 

It was an act of cowardice. She called for someone in the community to "sit me down" and make me stop while conveniently and cowardly hiding behind her Facebook wall. 

Had multiple friends in the community not sent me screenshots of her post and cut-and-pasted the text of the post into emails to me, and had she not mistakenly remained Facebook friends with Elysha (whoopsie!), I would have never seen this scathing, libelous attack.

This is one of the insidious parts of social media that doesn’t receive enough attention. As an elementary school teacher for 20 years, I have witnessed firsthand the rise of cyber bullying and know all too well how terrible it can be. It’s devastating to see ugliness, hate, and lies published on a network for the world to see.

But this is different. It hurts to hear that someone despises you and is publicly critical of your craft, but to know that everyone who is important to you professionally can read and respond to the accusations but you cannot is downright insidious and terrifying. To think that this person could continue to attack me again and again, behind my back, in such a cowardly, despicable manner, without me knowing or having any recourse, is scary as hell. To know that your community is reading such hateful comments while you are unable to respond is both enraging and unsettling.  

Elysha didn’t sleep well for days after seeing this post. She couldn’t understand how someone who I have never met could be so angry to attack me online in such a nefarious way.

I can’t either. I can’t begin to imagine her motives or what she hoped to gain from this bit of nastiness.

In response, I wrote to the woman, asking to speak on the phone. I promised to be open-minded and polite. I offered to let bygones by bygones in hopes of finding a middle ground of understanding. And I meant it. I'm nothing if not forgiving. 

Not surprising, she refused. Instead, she sent another screed, calling me among other things a liar. She also widening her target package to include Elysha, who she referred to as a “ditz and a flake.”

It’s an email filled with anger and cruelty and stupidity, and I am so pleased to be in possession of it if I decide to take action someday or (even better) simply post our exchange of emails online for entertainment purposes.

It makes for a fun read. Perhaps a holiday gift to my readers. 

But at least the attack was directed at me this time instead of behind my back. At least I knew what was being said about me. At least I had an opportunity to respond. Defend myself. Challenge her blatant inaccuracies with stubborn little facts.     

Human beings have undoubtedly been speaking behind the back of other human beings since the beginning of time. This is nothing new. It’s awful but unavoidable. But with the ability to block people on platforms like Facebook, we can now speak poorly, cruelly, damagingly, and libelously about another person without their knowledge and reach an audience of thousands with a single click. We can malign a person within their own online community without them ever seeing the insult. We can besmirch their reputation. Levy false allegations. Damage their means of making a living.

All without the victim ever knowing.   

This level of behind the back cowardice is new, and it is terrifying.

The good news about my situation is that the community came to my defense. They did the right thing. They alerted me to the post and offered to respond on my behalf. Elysha was then able to find the post and take screenshots as well. 

It’s important that we all do this.

Public criticism, as harsh and even unfair as it may be, is something that I’m willing to accept. As an author, storyteller, podcaster, playwright, and blogger, I accept my position as a public figure. Criticism is part of the deal. Those who create understand this reality. 

But insidious, behind-the-back criticism that allows critics to block their victims while taking advantage of a network effect that allows them reach large online communities must be rejected and repulsed every time. You have a right to know if someone is criticizing you, fairly or unfairly, on a platform like Facebook. You have a right to know if someone is writing scathing, libelous content about you that can be read and shared by the masses.

When we see these things happen, we must stand up and say no. We can’t accept this level of cowardice and cruelty.

I’m grateful that my community rose to my defense, but then again, I wasn’t surprised. Storytellers are good people.

Most of them, at least.

14 Things That Annoy Me (and probably you)

1. People who live in the suburbs of a city but claim residence to that city

2. Drivers who fail to understand that “No Right on Red” really means “Be careful before making your perfectly legal right on red.”

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3. Continuous discussions about body ailments and/or illnesses

4. Invitations to play stupid Facebook games

5. The recounting – word for word – of conversations that are clearly only interesting enough to warrant paraphrasing

6. Missing out on an argument or debate because I was a second too late or unaware of the proceedings

7. The massive stores of memory lost forever when a person dies

8. The almost universally incorrect use of the phrase “Begs the question”

9. The New Yorker way of saying “on line” instead of “in line”

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10. The bizarre pride that some New Yorkers feel (and openly express) about saying “on line” instead of “in line”

11. Songs about specific people that are named after those specific people (Elton John’s Daniel, Journey’s Amanda, Eric Clapton’s Layla)

12. The muddy, brown, cold days between winter and spring

13. The rhetorical use of the question “Guess what?” – as in “I listened to everything he had to say, and guess what? I didn’t believe a word he said.”

14. Almost every rhetorical question ever asked

Wanted: Photographs of sofas and slippers and well appointed thermostats. Please?

My Facebook feed has been full of wine over the past couple days.

Wine glasses set before roaring fires. Wine glasses being clinked in celebration. Wine glasses standing beside the spines of books and sleeping dogs and flickering candles.

It’s a funny thing. I spent last night drinking cold water from a steel water bottle. It was refreshing. Delightful, really. But I’d never think to post a photograph of it on social media.

Yet alcohol, and especially wine, seems to be the drink de jour. The universal symbol of relaxation. Celebration. There are moments when it seems as if half of the status updates in my Facebook feed include alcohol of some kind. Photos from bars and restaurants. References to wine and beer and spirits. Lamentations about the need for more alcohol. Boasts about the amount of alcohol already consumed.

I don’t drink. I belong to the tiny fraction of the population that doesn’t have a drinking problem but simply opts to not drink. I’ll have a glass of champagne when celebrating with friends or rare glass of wine at dinner, but otherwise, a soda or a water does me just fine. Makes me quite happy, in fact.

But water and soda don’t possess the inexplicable prestige that alcohol does. Water and soda – in some high school kind of way – aren’t cool. Posting a photograph of my bottle of water on Facebook would be ridiculous.

Settling in for a night of reading, writing, and maybe a little TV with my beautiful wife and some cold water. #perfection

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Strange, Right?

But of all the things we could photograph to symbolize our relaxation, so many of us choose alcohol. I think it’s just as strange as my water bottle.

I sometimes wonder if all of this attention that alcohol receives isn’t the residue of a time when we couldn’t drink alcohol legally. When you’re 16 years-old and you start drinking, you feel mature. Sophisticated. Cool. Ahead of the game. Maybe those positive associations permanently attach themselves to alcohol in a way that causes people to view a glass of wine or bourbon as a powerful symbol of their adulthood. Their own prestige.

I didn’t start drinking until after graduating high school. Maybe I lack that residue.  

I’m spit balling here, I’ll admit. I guess what I really want to say is this:

What the hell is with all the photos of wine and references to spirits on Facebook, people? How about a photograph of our couch instead? Or the book that you’re reading? Or your slippers? Or the quilt that you have wrapped around your body? Aren’t all of these things just as relaxing as that glass of wine, strategically framed by the light of your fireplace?

How about an occasional sofa? Or a pillow? Or a thermostat set to a toasty 72 degrees?

If nothing else, for the sake of a little diversity. 

Everyone is completely overwhelmed, except I kind of think that they aren’t and should reconsider their position.

It seems as if I hear someone say that they are overwhelmed or someone they know is overwhelmed or a certain segment of the population is overwhelmed almost every day.

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I don’t get it.

The average American watches 34 hours of television a week. Spends almost two hours a day on social media. Spends 40 minutes a day on Facebook alone.

They spend countless hours playing the latest version of Angry Birds or Words with Friends or Candy Crush and even more time complaining and gossiping.

These do not seem like the statistics of an overwhelmed population.

I’m not saying that people don’t feel overwhelmed. I’m merely suggesting that they aren’t actually overwhelmed.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, allow me suggest a little less Law & Order. Fewer Angry Birds. A little less Facebook.

Hack a friend’s Facebook profile. Have fun and do some good all at the same time.

I have a friend who does not passcode protect her phone. I don’t passcode protect mine, either. I feel like anyone who needs a passcode on their phone is hiding something, and I simply don’t have time for it. So I don’t blame my friend for her lack of security.

In fact, I love it.

Whenever she leaves her phone behind, in a meeting, in her classroom, or even at the table for a minute or two, I grab it and begin to change her Facebook settings.

I change her relationship status from Engaged to It’s Complicated.

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I change her birthday so she receives the barrage of birthday messages on the wrong day.

Your Facebook profile has a spot for your favorite quote. I once posted a quote about myself in her profile, and it took her more than a year to notice it.

It’s annoying as hell for her.

It’s funny as hell for me.

She’s not the only person I have done this to. I have hacked the Facebook profiles of two others, but they don’t know that I have done it yet. I have buried odd and embarrassing information in their Facebook profiles that they have yet to see.

It makes me so happy.

I mentioned this prank on Twitter over the weekend in a response to a comment about Facebook relationship statuses and received an enormous response from admiring and appreciative followers who never thought of pulling off a prank like this.

I was happy to help.

So go forth. Add a favorite quote to your friend’s Facebook profile. Change a religious affiliation. Assign a friend a February 29 birthday. Add a prison to the places where your friend once lived. Change a relationship status.

In the most recent case, changing my my friend’s relationship status from Engaged to It’s Complicated worked out well. When she reverted her status back to Engaged, it appeared in her friends’ feed again, and many, who failed to notice the change before, suddenly became aware of her pending nuptials. She received a barrage of congratulatory messages as a result. 

I was actually doing her a favor. And having fun in the process.

I bet that she’s secretly happy that I did it.

No one wants to see your photos of the sunrise or the sunset.

On Saturday morning, I posted the following to Facebook:

At 6:38 this morning the sky turned an orange that I have never seen before. It was as if it was on fire. The whole world was bathed in an eerily beautiful orange glow. It lasted for less than ten minutes. I took my son outside to watch. Only people who rise before the sun know the full range of the sky's colors.

I posted a shorter but similar comment to Twitter.

The post received a large response on social media, including a question, asked about a dozen times.

Why didn’t I capture the moment with a photograph?

Two reasons:

1. Photographs of sunsets and sunrises never adequately capture the majesty of the moment. Frankly, they’re boring. While I am certain that many sunsets and sunrises are stunning and perhaps even breathtaking, if I’m not there, it looks like all the other sunsets and sunrises that I’ve ever seen captured on film

Photography never does them justice.

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And there are a million of the photographs taken everyday and posted to social media, making them seem even less majestic. They are akin to elementary school poems about the snow or dogs. I’ve read a million of them over the course of my teaching career, and even the excellent ones are marginalized by sheer volume.

So I don’t take photographs of sunsets and sunrises and post them to social media. Nor should you.

2. Had I taken the time to photograph the sky on Saturday morning, I would’ve missed some of the majesty of the moment. In less than ten minutes, the sky has transformed from singular and spectacular to ordinary and expected. I spent every moment soaking it in. Enjoying it with my son. Committing the moment to memory.

Not sticking an iPhone in between me and it in order to take a photograph that would never do it justice.

This short film presents a situation that is both ridiculous and reality. And that scares the hell out of me.

It’s astounding how rapidly the selfie and social media have interlocked to become a ubiquitous, ingrained, and inexplicably accepted aspect of American culture.

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Does a film like this awaken people to the lunacy of their social media existences, or are they unable to see themselves for who they have become?

ASPIRATIONAL from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.

Why I chose not to vote today and then did anyway.

Here is a fundamental truth about me:

I do not like to be told what to do.

The more I am told what to do, the less likely I will do it, especially if:

  • I am being told what to do with great earnestness.
  • Failure to comply will not result in any serious negative consequences.

Today is a perfect example of this fundamental truth in action.

I opened my eyes this morning, looking forward to voting in today’s election.

I take a peek at Twitter through bleary eyes and see a handful of tweets urging me to vote. Simple reminders to vote don’t bother me, but the tweets that attempt to appeal to my civic duty and my patriotism annoy the hell out of me.

Don’t tell me what to do, and especially don’t tell me why you think I should do it.

I want to vote a little less now.

A little later I pop onto Facebook. This is where things start going downhill in a big way.

Extreme earnestness and self-righteousness are on full display this morning all over Facebook. Individuals who have deemed it necessary to proselytize to their friends about the nature, value, and benefits of voting are out in force today. They are pounding on their keyboard in sanctimonious glee.   

An example of the kind of Facebook message that annoys the hell out of me goes something like this:

It’s Election Day, friends. We are blessed as Americans to possess this sacred right, so please don’t waste it. Look into your heart and vote your conscience today. No matter what you political affiliation, we are all Americans. It is our duty to vote. Soldiers and patriots have given their lives so you can pull that lever today. Please be sure to exercise your right.  

Now I’m completely annoyed.

I’m not saying that this is the best way to be, but it’s the way I am.

The inane earnestness, the painful obviousness contained within the statement, the sheer weight of cliché, and seeming need of some people to take an oratorical, parental, paternal or Sermon on the Mount approach to something as basic and personal as voting makes me no longer want to vote.

Instead, I find myself wanting to do exactly the opposite of what these people are telling me to do. I want to not vote in hopes of ruining their day or at least convincing them that next time, I don’t need their reminder to vote.

No one needs a reminder to vote.

Everyone knows it’s Election Day.

Anyone who turns on a television or a radio or a computer or drives down the street or speaks to a friend on the telephone knows that today is Election Day.

We all know that today is the day to vote.

I can only assume that the person who feels the need to employ this level of self-righteous earnestness in an effort to convince a friend to vote must live in some kind of pious, self-satisfied bubble. Unfortunately, they have poked their heads out of their bubble long enough today to annoy me.

Now I don’t want to vote. The fundamental truth that I do not like to be told what to do has been activated, and I must now decide if I can purposefully not vote and (just as important) tell everyone that I decided not to vote.

I consider the second condition by which I decide whether to actively not do what I have been told:

  • Failure to comply will not result in any serious negative consequences.

In the grand scheme of things, this is probably true as well. While every vote counts, it is unlikely that my vote will determine the fate of any political race. It is possible for me not to vote today and have no election result changed in any way.

So now I am seriously thinking about not voting. In fact, the idea of not voting as a direct result of a friend’s earnest appeal to vote warms me inside. I smile. I discover a skip in my step. My heart soars.

I was told to vote, so now I am not going to vote.

Like I said, this is not the best way to be, but it’s me.

But here’s the problem:

I want to vote.

Underneath the layers of spite and pettiness and annoyance, and beyond my extreme desire to ruin the day of an overly-earnest proselytizer lies the desire to express my political will by pulling a lever.

In my gut, I still want to vote.

In the end, it comes down to this:

Whose day would I rather ruin?

The annoying Facebook friend who seems to think that he or she is the patron saint of voting or the political candidate whose positions I despise?

Whose day is better ruined?

My vote may not alter the course of the election, but when my candidate wins, I will know that I played a role in defeating the opposition.

That would warm me inside as well. That would put a smile on my face and a skip in my step and cause my heart to soar.  

In a perfect world, there would be a way to ruin the day of the Facebook friend and the political candidate, but sadly, this is not a perfect world.

But voting for the right candidate might make it a more perfect world, though, so in the end, I choose to vote. 

I vote because I want to vote. I opened my eyes this morning looking forward to voting, and that is what I will do. I cannot allow the sanctimony and self-righteousness of Facebook friends to strip me of my opportunity to exact my political will.

Next time I’ll take my wife’s advice and just avoid Facebook altogether.

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Marriage deconstruction tool

In 2011, Facebook was cited as a contributing factor in one-third of divorces. 

The most common reasons cited as evidence were inappropriate messages to members of the opposite sex, separated spouses posting nasty comments about each other, and Facebook friends reporting spouse’s inappropriate behavior.

I find these statistics tragic and unfathomable.

Facebook?

I have three close friends who do not have a Facebook account. All three are men.

I’m starting to think that they are smarter than the rest of us.