I really wonder how and why I missed SL-based author Huckleberry Hax’s post “Fatal Crosspost: Coming soon to a conversation near you” – and I can’t help wondering why it’s not considered a seminal post in internet culture. The gist of it is that, while we’re online, we often find ourselves multitasking, doing things both on our internet-capable device and beyond it: we browse, shop online, talk on the phone, write a text for work, watch videos, and chat. In chatrooms and / or in one, two, three, or more private conversations. And this can lead to “accidents” – and not of the “happy” variety.
Now, computers have made significant strides from the single-tasking days of CP/M and MS-DOS, and we take their multi-tasking capabilities for granted. Still, sometimes they fail. The occasional application or browser tab acts up, and things can go wrong, slightly, annoyingly, or even catastrophically. As far as we humans are concerned as internet users and, more specifically, as chat participants, the fatal crosspost is a prime example of a catastrophic event, which happens inadvertently and whose consequences are permanent.
We’ve all experienced the occasional accidental crosspost, either because it’s happened to us or because we witnessed it: we’re talking with X in one chat window and with Y in another, or we’re talking in open chat (or a chatroom, if you will), and with X in a private message. And we type and send Y something we intended to send X, or vice versa; or we type and send in open chat something we intended to say to X, or vice versa. Most of the time, such crossposts are benign. You wanted to ask X what time is convenient for them to meet you, and you said it in open chat; you wanted to ask about the syntax of a certain command in a certain programming language, and you asked the wrong person or group. That’s fine – you just say “sorry, wrong window,” others accept it, smile and shrug it off, no harm done.
The fatal crosspost, though, is an entirely different beast. As Huck says, “[f]or a fatal crosspost to occur, the thing accidentally typed has to be monumentally one of the worst possible things you could say to that person in that moment. For example, a comment about person X meant for person Y. An uncomplimentary comment.”
Of course, the online realm isn’t the only space where the fatal crosspost occurs; we’ve all seen it happen in meatspace, and, no matter what American sitcoms tell us for narrative purposes, its consequences aren’t any less dire. Both in meatspace and online, there’s an event horizon that separates the time before the fatal crosspost and the time after it – and once you cross this event horizon, there’s no turning back. Ever. Apologise all you want, grovel all you want, it’s no use, and – even worse – there’s no excuse whatsoever that can pull you out of the mess you’ve created for yourself. No second chance. No forgiveness.
In his post, Huck gave an example of what can constitute a fatal crosspost. Another type of fatal crosspost could be this: you’re romantically involved with X, and it is understood by both of you that your relationship is based on mutual dedication and sexual loyalty / faithfulness. Then, you hit it off with Y, and explore paths that differ significantly from the ones you and X have been walking. And you send X an erotic message meant for Y. Naturally, it’s such a message that X could never believe that they were the intended recipient. This is – usually – a fatal crosspost, depending on the content of the message and the history of your relationship with X. If, for example, you’ve been neglecting and gaslighting X, making them feel more and more miserable, making them beg you for a small fraction of the attention, affection, and time you once gave them, then you’re fucked (not in a good way), and you had it coming.
If you wanted to make X hate you and break off all communication with you, I must offer you my most enthusiastic contrafibularities. You’ve given them every reason and right to become your mortal enemy, to think of you as a bucket full of bovine diarrhoea, and to speak in the most unfavourable manner imaginable about you, whenever they’re given a chance, and to anyone who’ll listen. Even if what you said to Y to instill bias against X in them includes a grain of truth or two, you’re still fucked – again, not in a good way. You see, the one who talked smack about someone else behind their back and got busted is you.
But why is the fatal crosspost such a huge deal? Such comments constitute a major breach of trust and confidence. It’s because the person you’re targeting in your fatal crosspost is usually a person you’re supposedly a friend of, a person who trusts and respects you – even loves you. And you chose to disrespect that friendship and those feelings. Regardless of what you were trying to achieve with your behaviour, the fact that you either spoke ill of them to someone else behind their back or betrayed your romantic liaison shows that the feelings of trust and respect were not mutual.
Now, let me take Huck’s example a bit further: imagine that you’re in a public setting in SL with X and Y, and surrounded by people who know all three of you – you, X, and Y. And imagine that you instead of sending the ugly remark about X to Y, you send it to public chat, where everyone present can read it. Obviously, X has every reason to loathe you forever. What about the others? Well, those who were at the scene and witnessed your fatal crosspost won’t have much of an incentive to continue respecting you (if they did in the first place), especially if X is their friend. And if you had invested much in presenting yourself as a paragon of ethics, as the best specimen of the anti-drama species, then you’ve just shattered your entire marketing campaign.
If you do that, you’d best eat humble pie and apologise publicly and profusely, without expecting that X will ever forgive you, and without believing for a nanosecond that X will be obliged to not speak ill of you. Maybe the other people who witnessed the scene will someday forgive you. Maybe. But who cares? You should have known better. But now that you’ve gone and put your foot in your mouth, can you avoid losing face in such a shameful manner? Hmmm, let me think…
Actually, there’s only one way for you to avoid the consequences of a public fatal crosspost: you must be such a venerated “celebrity” in your community, so “irreplaceable”, so well-connected to the “right” people, so adept at providing hours of exquisite rimming to the “right” rectums, so completely above and beyond critique and scrutiny, that, in others’ eyes, you can do no wrong whatsoever and everyone’s quick to forgive you for literally everything. In other words, you must be a true high-functioning sociopath with no scruples or principles, who’s mastered the art of manipulating others and has elevated it to a science. In other words, you must be a total Karma Houdini and a world-class sycophant.
Then again, you might think I must be a complete hypocrite; surely I’ve made at least one fatal crosspost. Right? The answer is no. I have said things that angered others, but I’ve always said them to their faces, and not behind their backs. There are reasons why I’ve managed to avoid making fatal crossposts. For starters, it’s my principle to include in my friends list only people I can respect. Second, I detest gossip. I choose to not frequent gossip cesspools like the ones I talked about a while ago, and keep a safe distance from those who do. Third, I know how to respect my friends’ friendships. If both A and B are my friends, I choose to not speak ill of A to B, or vice versa.
That said, I reserve the right to say whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want, to whomever I choose, about someone who subjects me to a fatal crosspost or has done so in the past. Some may find it prudent to take this as fair warning.