sometimes the internet makes you feel bad

maybe we don't need yahoo answers

On Tuesday, Yahoo! began the process of shuttering its question-and-answer forum, Yahoo! Answers. Nobody can ask questions anymore and at the end of next month, nobody will be able to read it either. Yesterday, I started working on something about the last few questions posted to the site, questions that will go unanswered forever. (Or, as I’ve previously covered, questions that really act as statements of their own.)

I don’t have much to say about these questions other than that they’re kinda funny and sad, in a mundane way. A last gasp from people who know that their stomping ground managed to survive well past its usefulness.

But currently at the top of the front page of Yahoo! Answers is a question titled “Look at how long her hair is?” and the body of the post just says “Its beautiful” and features a school picture of a girl of indeterminate age. It’s weird, but ostensibly, this was the last thing ever posted to Yahoo! Answers, and so I tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

So I did the thing I always do when I find a picture online — I used reverse-image search tools to see where else it was posted. I received no hits on multiple search engines, until one of them found an identical hit, also on Yahoo! Answers, timestamped one week ago. The question asked was “This is [redacted name] of [redacted city and state]?” No other info or context was provided. The question, for some reason, did have an non-answer from a user who jokingly asked if the girl knew of “this infatuation you have with her.”

So I have this name and geographic location and I google it and I get a few hits, but not a ton back. Certainly no easy way to contact this person and ask 1) if that’s them in the picture and 2) why someone is trying to find them on Yahoo! Answers. I find a couple news articles from years ago, as well as what’s probably her Facebook account, and those of her parents, and I know they’re her parents because some obituaries of other family members confirm as much. And I think about messaging them but I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m gonna ask. “Hey, did you know someone posted your picture on Yahoo! Answers right as it was dying?”

The other thing I discover is a now-deleted Reddit user cached in Google results. This unknown Reddit poster is someone who now I suspect is also the Yahoo! Answers user, who is searching for this girl on Reddit, naming her high school, and asking if anyone knows her. And also posting some other weird shit; nothing super incriminating but I get a vibe of someone who’s not quite clear on social decorum or boundaries. No idea how old this almost-definitely-dude is. There are many people online like this.

And so I’m sitting here, trying to figure out what to do and I’ve decided the best possible thing is to leave it alone. I am, if you couldn’t quite tell from a year of me writing these things, fascinated by internet history, and forgotten events, and how the internet is an endless archive of weird stories and mundane interactions and accidental monuments to people and things. But that also means there’s a lot of bad shit in there. A lot.

I am, in many ways, sympathetic to people who believe that everything on the internet needs to be archived and accessible, because it’s a way to push back against the notion of history being written by the victors. I regularly consult the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine, which is an incredible tool. I also, however, regularly encounter things like what I stumbled upon today, things where some mostly anonymous person is made accidentally notable, probably without their consent. I didn’t want to be the one to send a weird Facebook message to this girl, or her parents, potentially notifying them that some anonymous person online was looking for them and posted an odd (in retrospect, skin-crawling) comment about beautiful hair.

These experiences regularly lead me to the position that we don’t actually need to preserve capital-E Everything that happens online, especially on platforms like Yahoo! Answers where it’s safe to assume a higher-than-average portion of the users were not particularly web-savvy. At the very least, we don’t need to archive and index and make public all of this stuff right as it’s happening. There is something to be said for letting time pass and maintaining a critical distance.

Anyway, my point is there are direct ways that the internet makes you feel bad — someone posts something explicitly awful and mean and toxic — and then there are a myriad of ways that the internet makes you feel uncomfortable, and aware of how much you don’t know, and makes you question whether you even want to know the things you don’t know. It’s kind of insidious, and I do not enjoy it.

a funny thing I saw

I’d rather not end on a bummer so: the Oscars are this weekend, and I was reminded of that time Ellen orchestrated a selfie during the broadcast and tweeted it and everyone went nuts. I revisited it today, and… the caption is terrible? “If only Bradley’s arm was longer.” Wild syntax.

I also saw this reply, and it made me laugh.

I checked Carolee’s profile out. The bio (“Mom of 5, Grandmother of 14, married 51 years.”) and the lack of an avatar lead me to believe that her comment is serious. And you know what? She’s right. Celebs should not be hanging out indoors unmasked like this right now, and especially not with accused sex criminal Kevin Spacey. Keep holding them accountable, Carolee.


Thank you for reading, BNet. I’ve been doing this for a whole dang year.