This has been brewing ever since I witnessed a particularly unpleasant instance of what people call "namedropping" (I guess). It didn't involve anyone I know or care about, but I was absolutely positive that the person who namedropped did not know the person whose name they dropped, as it were. The way this was done was something like... "Oh yeah, [name]. I know her." Because I don't want to refer to specifics, let's just say that it was very obviously not the kind of casual "know" - the person in question was very obviously trying to make it look like they really did know the person they were talking about. And I was sitting there staring at the screen going "No, no, you really don't. You obviously don't." And that got me to thinking about people's perceptions, and expectations (and also pie, but don't say anything).
Basically, my point, such as it is, is very simple. You cannot assume that you know a person from reading their public LJ entries. You just can't. What people put in their public LJ, the things they say in public communities, are definitely reflections of who they truly are as a person - most of the time, anyway. However, these things do not provide the whole picture, they never can. I'm speaking from experience here -- if I were to judge my closest HP fandom friends by what they said in their LJs and in other communities I'm a part of? I so wouldn't be friends with them. Because the "public image" they project? Is similar but also quite different from who they really are.
There was a joke going around back in the day, wherein online no one knew you were a dog -- and that's true. You can say anything out in the public space and people wouldn't know truth from lie, unless they are people who know better in the first place. I mean, a while back I did a "how well do you know me" poll for fun, wherein a lot of people thought I had a MA in Russian studies. Which made me go WTF since I have never hinted or implied such a thing. Perception is a powerful thing, yeah? I mean, I am of Russian descent, I have decent knowledge of Russian history, but no, I hold no degree. And yet -- some people thought I did. For no real reason, probably, if you asked them, they likely wouldn't be able to tell you why they thought so, but there it is. Of course there is the other side of the coin - someone could claim they have a PhD in nuclear physics, English, or llama breeding and no one - no one (except people who know them IRL) - would know the difference. I mean, obviously, you have to be able to fake it at least a little, because if you claim to have a PhD in nuclear physics and don't know what the Doppler effect is or if you claim to have a PhD in English and can't bloody spell, people are gonna be leery, but I digress. (I actually don't know if the Doppler effect has anything to do with nuclear physics - it was just the first physics-y thing that popped into my head, mkay).
The thing is, though - I could say I was a nuclear scientist and writing slash was my way of releasing stress. There's no way you could ever disprove this, not unless you engaged me in conversation. When I was in the Matrix fandom (this must have been some 3 or 4 years ago, I'm not sure), I adminned a rather large discussion community, which was also a sort of 'virtual home' for members. One day, a very nice and charming young man came to the board. He had some interesting ideas, and he seemed very enthusiastic about the community. He told us about his lovely girlfriend and his adorable twins, and people just loved him to death. His girlfriend became a member of the community also, right around that time. A couple of weeks down the road, his little brother came to visit him from New York. Heh. Now, I have something that I call a 'bullshit radar' that I've learned to trust over the years because it has yet to lie. When this young man first showed up at the board, my radar pinged restlessly but I ignored it because back then I still didn't know to trust it. However, when this younger brother showed up, something told me to check out the IPs on these three people. Sure enough, they matched, even when the 'little brother' went back to 'New York' and claimed to be posting from there.
I did some drilling down and poking around, and eventually found out that our charming young man was actually a girl, who was a community college freshman and impersonating her computer studies professor. The 'wife' and 'little brother' were sockpuppets, obviously. Honestly, had she not taken it too far (which people online almost always do when faking, heh), we might have gone on believing the 'girlfriend and twins' bullshit for years. [/vaguely educational anecdote] That incident and a few others were what eventually led to my virulent dislike of online dishonesty - because I had to watch those I cared about get taken in and hurt by people who were essentially fake attention whores, and I fucking hated it.
The crux of the matter is conversation. To begin to understand someone, to begin to know them, you have to engage them in conversation, and that's why reading someone's LJ is not nearly enough in order to get an idea about who that person is. Because when you read someone's comments or LJ entries, you are looking at them from the you-perspective. You have your own ideas about how people work, about how the world works, and most of the time? That's quite enough. You don't have to want to get to know the people whose LJs you read, especially if you read them for fandom purposes rather than because you're interested in them as people. Just don't claim to know them as people if you've never made an effort to try and find out what they were like. Because as much as we might not want to admit it? Our own perceptions of people are coloured by our own expectations of ourselves, and our own views of how the world works, and that is not a good starting point when you're trying to understand someone else. Because your value system is not theirs, your beliefs are not theirs -- and while we have to make allowances for things like common sense and decency, there is no understanding someone without talking to them.
LJ provides an extremely -- extremely -- limited view of individuals. I've been surprised (often pleasantly, and not so much in very rare cases) by how different some people whose LJs I read are once I engage them in conversation and start talking in a more private venue. It's not that they're fake in their LJ, it's just that LJ entries and comments are public and we all put our best foot forward in public, or at least we try to. There's also the matter of knowingly and purposefully not "letting it all hang out", so to speak, because really, there's no requirement in the LJ Terms of Service to only post stuff that features full disclosure of your mindset and your motivations. And even for those people who are 100% frank about themselves, there is still no knowing them without trying to see where they're coming from.
Feel free to form impressions and take them home -- we wouldn't have lasted long as a species if we didn't use our brains to form conclusions. Just remember that when it comes to other people? Your conclusions may be all wrong, no matter how much you might kick and scream and not want it to be so. Don't turn around and claim you know me if you've never spoken to me aside from two or three comment conversations. Because you don't. This is not because I'm somehow more complex or special than everyone else, I'm really not - I'm quite dull. But if you've never exchanged more than a "-Nice post! -Thanks!" or similar, you have no business claiming that you know someone. I'm sure you wouldn't want them to claim that they know you based on two conversations you had about Draco and the Squid's great and t00by love. I'm more than aware that there are only a few people I can begin to understand in fandom, and even fewer people whom I truly know. So for the love of pie, please don't embarrass yourself by saying you know someone just because you've left a couple of smiley-face-infested comments on their LJ. You don't.
Words? Thoughts? Pie?