Sunday 5 July 2020

Nerd Church - Online Responsibility (All The World's A Stage)

I think one of the primary responsibilities we have in life is to not hurt people.

The thing is, not everyone agrees on what, exactly, that entails.

A lot of people don't think that that responsibility to not hurt people covers saying cr*p online, for example.

'Online Responsibility (All The World's A Stage)' written in a white ye olde fashioned script, against a stage and red curtain, with dramatic lighting

It may not hurt someone physically, but what we say online can have serious repercussions. 

And the more 'influence' we have - online or in the mainstream media - the more responsibility we have to consider the consequences of our actions.

The world is full of nuance and 'what ifs' and 'but what abouts' - I'm not going to deny that. It's the way things are.

But I think that, in general, you have the responsibility to think about the ramifications of your words before you say them (whether that's verbally or online or whatever.)

'You're asking people to censor themselves!' - kind of, yeah.

I'm asking people to know when it's appropriate to joke, and when it isn't. 

I'm asking people to understand that what you say to a crowd of small children is different to what you might say in a university lecture hall, and hopefully extremely different to what you'd say at a strip club.

I'm asking people to realise that screaming abuse at other people in a public restaurant is likely to get you kicked out.

(Yes, Twitter is the restaurant, ok?)

I'm not going to pretend I always do or say the 'right' thing. I'm sure that's not true - I'm only human, after all (at least that's what they tell me 😉).

But what I try to do, with my moderate-sized online platform

 - one which seems big to people with small followings, and small to people with big followings - 

is to be responsible, and to think before I speak.

Because the very last thing I want is for people to get hurt because of something I said or did.

Imagine you're standing on a stage of a hall or theatre. 

And the people in the audience have come to see you and you alone. 

That's what your online platform is. 

Whether it's Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, your own blog, or a combination of social platforms, they can all be represented by that image of a stage.

(Yes, I know I said Twitter's a restaurant - it is. We're mixing metaphors. Just go with it!)

When you have a tiny platform of less than 100 (and we all start somewhere! You have no idea how chuffed I still get when I first hit 100 followers on a social platform,) it's relatively easy to explain to your audience what it is you're trying to say.

Squirdward from Spongebob Squarepants, answering the phone: Hello, you've reached the home of unrecognized talent
Via Giphy

And because there aren't a huge amount of them, you can 'read the room' and realise when you need to clarify things, and when you don't. 

You may know that audience quite well, even - a local performance in your school or home town has more of a shared cultural experience, and more knowledge of how your audience may interpret your work.

If needs be, you can even go around everyone after the show and answer questions.

When you have a few hundred, or a few thousand, followers, your responsibility grows accordingly.

From where you're stood though, on the stage, (now a packed crowd, though you're still playing the same venue,) you can still see almost everyone who's watching you.

You can look out at your audience and be aware that amongst them are people from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of experiences.

You start to become aware that some of the people in front of you have been through a lot, so it's worth warning them if one of your shows has some content they may not wanna see.

(You should also be considering how good or bad your disabled access is, and whether your venue is a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ people and People of Colour/BAME people. #JustSaying)

There's no watershed on your stage, and no age restrictions at the door, so you need to be responsible for making sure people are aware of what performance you're staging. 

Some of your plays are like Care Bears, but some are a little more like the Saw films, or 50 Shades of Grey and you really don't want those audiences not knowing which is which!

So you need to tell them at the ticket office if things are gonna get graphic and/or sensitive.

You can still meet people after the show, sometimes.

But it becomes more difficult to know your audience as completely as you did when you were playing to those small and intimate crowds of 100 people or less.

Still, you try to wave at your regulars, and go to some of their performances too. You take time to go to other people's plays and hear their stories. 

The crowd in front of you is made up of individuals, and you remind yourself that.

Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants, coming back from the shops and finding loads of blinking eyes of people hiding under his rock-house. He says: Who are you people?!
Via Giphy

I've never played the larger venues - those in the bigger towns and the cities which can hold tens of thousands of followers.

I imagine that's it's more difficult to control a crowd that size. Looking out at them must sometimes seem like controlling an army, or watching waves crash against the shore.

There are some performers, though, who are able to still pick out the individuals in the metaphorical crowd. 

These are the best kinds of performers - those who don't forget that that audience is made up of people, messy and complex and all with their own lives to live.

These best kinds of performers, though, also know that they have the responsibility that this size of platform brings - you need to think about what you wanna say and how you wanna say it.

That doesn't mean that you can't say controversial things, or that you can't 'push the boundaries' a little.

But you should be aware that you have a devoted audience now, who will take what you say and run with it, maybe to extreme degrees. So you need to be very conscious of what you're doing.

You should also be aware that standing on that stage does not mean that everyone loves you - if the crowd dislikes the performance, then they'll boo and heckle their butts off, guaranteed.

New people might not come to see you. The metaphorical theatre critics might go on the offensive. 

You can still say whatever you want, but that doesn't protect you from the consequences of people disagreeing with you.

Once you're at the huge festivals and stadiums, playing to millions, then it's like you're the de facto leader of a small country.

My country (Wales,) has a population of a little over 3 million people. 

If you have millions of followers, you are speaking to your very own little online nation. Don't become the corrupt government of your fandom-state.

I imagine it's difficult to remember that ALL of those people are still individuals - they have their own lives, loves, desires, fears, etc. 

But from where you're standing, they all look like little dots. You can't even see all of them any more.

If you're talking to that many people, you also have a responsibility to think through all the ways this sh** could go wrong.

Because when you're talking directly to that many people, that sh** will go wrong, and you need to mitigate the damage.

Your words will be mis-spoken, misunderstood, and/or used as justifications for harming others.

I have no idea how you would even begin to control that level of social power.

But you have to. Because, as every Marvel fan knows, with great power comes great responsibility.

So... have I thoroughly confused you all?
Do you see what I'm getting at?
Or do I need to work on my muddled metaphors?
Talk to me! 😊💬

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Sharing and commenting helps me stay on my stage dearest nerdlets! 💖


  1. I totally understand where you're coming from, Cee! Loved the metaphors! Funny enough, the other day my sister and I were talking about how a local news twitter account had a lot of negative replies on one of their articles, simply because they were highlighting a new drag queen show. I wanted to lash out at the replies and use come colourful language to do so, but my sister told me to hold back because she didn't want me to get into a twitter fight with some 40 year old man. Now I can see where she was coming from, and how it kinda applies to this post. Even though I had good intentions, sometimes using the most colourful language will just anger your audience instead of teach them something new. I don't want my stage to just be full of screaming and swearing, instead, it should be a respectful conversation.

    1. Thanks Em! Sometimes it's a good idea to step back, sometimes it's a good idea to let 'em have it! ;) It all comes down to context and timing and all that jazz, and we all have to figure it out as we go along, I'm afraid. (The 'report' button is always there though!)

      There are def. a few times I regret speaking colourfully (well, as colourful as I get with my *'s!) and it's def. a balance.

      It's not just confrontations though - it's things like what JKR did. The way that's been used by politicians in America to block an equality law, and the way it's been used to slander and abuse the UK Trans kids charity Mermaids, which she didn't mention directly, but who have been spoken about and slandered using her words. Those things might not be what she did *directly*, but they are a direct result of her words. Because she has *more than* a small country following her - and doesn't have the sense of responsibility that should bring.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more.


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