Who gets to define reality?

Where should we draw the line with our outgoing links? This is a question Carol and I found ourselves discussing in-depth the other day, after a recent event that I can’t discuss publicly. It certainly led to some tricky questions for us, without clear-cut answers.

Such as…

To what extent are we responsible for the content of our outbound links? To what extent is a link an endorsement of content?

What if someone feels they are actually being harmed by what's being said about them on one of our linked sites? Should we remove our link, if asked? How can we know whose version of reality is accurate, or make that, "more accurate?" Who's telling it like it is? Who's covering something up or shading the truth? Is anyone lying?

We all know what we say online is shaped, packaged and preserved to appear a certain way. There are important things we're leaving out to preserve the privacy of others. Things we're leaving out because they reflect poorly on us. Things we leave out because we're genuinely ashamed of them, or confused—or just overall flummoxed—and who's the wiser anyway if that just all stays in a dark box in the closet?

We offer our listings as a resource for those who are interested in the topic of stepmother/mother relationships. We're doing our best to acknowledge the full spectrum of emotions out there, from head-on vitriol directed at the "other woman"— to sites where the blogger just seems so happy being unhappy—to the most harmonious of partnerships, where both mom and stepmom are friends, and truly love each other. We do this because women are living the full range of experiences, as evidenced by the amazing and intense variety of perspectives, hopes, and fears online. And yes, we also care about providing as many links as possible, because it increases our traffic.

That being said, I know I've had a few uncomfortable moments over the course of the last year, perusing our links to catch up on the latest posts.

For instance, I don't think it's right to post private emails without the writer's permission, especially if you're just using their message to pick them apart and really prove how, once again, they're "totally wrong." Sure, it's probably easier to just duplicate the message, instead of summing it up. But imagine if the same thing happened to you. How would you feel? What is this behavior contributing to the relationship, however bad it might already be?

I also worry when I see anonymous sites where the two "sides" seem to be engaging in active combat, describing incredibly detailed information about the children. What if the kids find this stuff? Then what happens? The adult/child relationship runs the risk of serious damage, and the child or teen has to grapple with that exact, same sense of exposure, upset and betrayal as the letter writer above. Does the opportunity to vent and emotionally "process" for the blogger justify the potential consequences?

Where are the ethical lines when it comes to protecting the children?

Of course, we do bear a certain responsibility for the links that we list. There are some sites that are just so consistently spiteful, we couldn't bring ourselves to read more than a few paragraphs, and felt justified in skipping them. But do we just chalk up the ones that are skirting dangerously close—to the Wild, Wild West of the internet frontier?

I know what it's like to feel so desperate about your situation that you want to connect with others—somehow, anyhow—to get support and encouragement. But where does this ultimately leave the writer if they're doing some of the things I described above?

Where does that leave the people they are writing about, in terms of privacy, and dignity, and any inclination they might have to mend the relationship?

And where does it leave the readers, wondering who to believe, squirming in their seats as they're inadvertently roped into complicity?

Where do YOU think the lines should be?

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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