No, YOU Get Off MY Internet

GOMIThis morning, Forbes.com released their annual list of 100 Best Websites For Women. It includes everything from food blogs, to personal blogs, to corporate blogs, to message boards and community based sites. Reading through the list, as with most of these lists, I found that some choices were cutting edge, some obvious, some passé, but one choice was puzzling beyond all belief if not utterly disturbing.

Listed right in between financial empowerment site Get Raised and non profit education site Girls Who Code, is the blog and active message board community GET OFF MY INTERNETS (both affectionately and non-affectionately known as GOMI) a site which devotes its bandwidth to skewering and cutting down some of the very women it shares its placement on the Forbes list with.

Not familiar with GOMI? Let me share with you a few passages that have been published there about some of my colleagues.

FROM THE COMMUNITY PAGES:

“I just hope to G-d she doesn’t have another baby.”

“I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that all these people find her so relatable and think she is such a fabulous mom.  I’m done with the hate reading, she is just too much of a disgusting, hot mess for me. “

“She doesn’t have a job offer. Her house is falling apart. She’s still fat and despises motherhood. So aaah, not really good blog material!”

” I seriously can’t even believe that she publicizes a photo of herself Photoshopped to that level. Isn’t it embarrassing for any company working with her that she’s obviously so gross in person that she has to heavily edit herself to look presentable?!

“PS – this isn’t about her being fat, it’s about her being a shameless hypocrite and outright liar.”

“…they branded themselves as “those people who had a child die” and played it to the hilt for blog popularity. “

“I think people are doing it.  I think people have contacted Citibank and other agencies she works/worked for. “

FROM THE FRONT PAGE:

Personal finances. Mental health. Body Image. Divorce. Religion. Baby loss. Parental suitability. Bankruptcy. Job loss. All these things being “snarked on” by the GOMI community, almost always directed at women, wives, mothers, entrepreneurs, and most importantly HUMAN FREAKING BEINGS and that is what Forbes has deemed one of the sites that its many esteemed female readers should be visiting. That’s the fire they’re choosing to fan by including GOMI on their list.

I cut my social media teeth via the online message board while whittling away the hours at my very first job out of college. I liked the quick-witted, semi-anonymous environment. I liked the way that I could filter my persona. I just liked it. It was social. It was an escape. It was something to do.

And later, when I was lying on the couch with relentless nausea at six weeks pregnant, I took solace in a popular pregnancy forum (whose parent site is also included on Forbes 2013 list). It was there that I first came to fully understand that Message Boards had a dark side. A really dark dark side.

The behavior of grown women shocked me. It was like a 24 hour marathon of Rock of Love with pregnant chicks. I made life long friends there, and during some of my lowest moments those women were the only people I was able to turn to. But I also saw an aspect of human behavior that I had never witnessed before. Even amongst some I counted as friends I saw backstabbing and interference that went far beyond the screen and affected real lives. Employers tracked down and called at work. Custody battles interfered with. Secrets shared during the most vulnerable of moments screencaptured and aired out for all the world to see. And yes…on two occasions, full-blown catfishing.

There is a very fine line between the online and off and while we often seem quick to separate the two what happens on the internet IS REAL LIFE. 

The GOMI community seems to feel that it has some sort of vigilante responsibility to police the blogosphere for things it deems irritating and then pick at those scabs until they become giant gaping wounds in the lives of real people. While plenty of stories published to GOMI roll off the backs of their subjects, others have contributed to legitimate damage on the lives and livelihoods of those they seek to mock.

According to an interview with the Daily Dot, GOMI’s founder Alice Walker Wright and her community believe her site provides “a necessary service to bloggers who’ve completely fallen out of touch with reality.” The Dot writes:

Of course, much of the stuff that ends up on GOMI could hardly be called constructive criticism. Blogger Issa Waters, for example, can’t help that she’s overweight, but GOMI took her to task for not publishing readers’ comments. Wright said that type of snark has its own purpose, too.

“It’s a relief valve,” she said. “In my opinion, I think having a place to get things off your chest is healthy. My goal is really just to give people a place to say what they feel like they can’t say to some of these bloggers. A place where they can give their opinion without being shut out.”

And as to the bloggers who might have hurt feelings?

“Would bloggers rather have this stuff in their comments section or on the big Internet hate site GOMI that nobody forces them to read?”

That last comment from Wright reads as rather ironic to me — her site is built around the hate boiling up around sites that like her own site, no one is forcing anyone to read. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt right? Well, just because the GOMI community hasn’t seen the tears, anxiety, sleeplessness, and financial impact that their community has had on the lives of these actual real people who don’t just live in their computers and refuse to publish their vicious comments, doesn’t mean that it’s not just as tangible as the Franzia they’re clutching while they release their own tension by shitting all over others.

We campaign against gossip and bullying for our children, but when adults do it, we call it cutting edge and add them to best of lists. As for Forbes, this particular list, in their own words, was curated to include:

“Informative and compelling content, sure, but also smart design, engaged communities and a voice that speaks to and for the female reader. We’re looking for the inspiration to start businesses, get stress in check, climb the corporate ladder or maybe just Lean In. Of course, there are extra fun points for the escapist sites we rely on to help us pass the dreaded three oh clock hour. …These sites need to make us smile, make us think but most importantly make us share—sometimes via social, sometimes in email but we believe the true mark of great content is the kind that makes you step away from your desk and talk about it.”

Forbes, you should know as well as anyone that talk is currency and you’ve just invested in a dangerous game. I hope you did your research.

Feed Me Seymour