Saturday, September 6, 2014

Social Media Shaming Has Turned Normal People Into Bullies

I ride the Los Angeles Metro daily; and often times, I sit next to men who lounge with their legs spread wide, while I, small and polite, sit squished and uncomfortable. I contemplate saying something, but really, what is there for me to say? If they pushed their legs together, I wouldn't all of a sudden spread my own because I unfortunately or fortunately was taught to "be a lady."

Thus, the idea of a Tumblr such as "Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train" sounded  delightful at first. This blog has received quite a bit of media attention, and initially, I liked the idea of people taking photos of space hogs, the blog posting them, and then the world judging these men for their space entitlement. After all, justice!

But after the initial satisfaction of "justice" subsided, I wondered what it would feel like to actually be one of those strangers who was shamed on social media. Perhaps the guys on "Men Taking Up Too Much Space..." don't care that much because the phenomenon is so common, but what if you're singled out for just being yourself?

That's what happened to Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman with facial hair. A Reddit user snapped a photo of her and posted it onto the site with the caption, "I don't know what to think of this." Although his caption attempted to play dumb, the user's intent was to say, "Look at this person. Let's make fun of her." Kaur learned of her newfound internet fame, and she responded, explaining that her religion does not allow her to alter her body and thus she does not remove her facial hair. Miraculously, the Reddit user apologized, and the internet rallied behind Kaur, a stranger shaming victim who didn't allow herself to be a victim.
A Reddit user tried to shame Balpreet Kaur, but she would not be victimized. (Courtesy of Jezebel)
However, not everyone is so lucky. Sophie Wilkinson of The Debrief shared how humiliating it felt for her to be one of the girls featured on "Women Who Eat on Tubes." A stranger snapped an unflattering photo of her eating a salad while riding the subway. He then posted it to the "Women Who Eat" Facebook group. Wilkinson described what it was like finding her picture: "Though the group information states it ‘doesn’t intimidate or bully’, I felt victimised. And hurt. Was it really not the original poster’s intention to humiliate me by accompanying the photo with the caption ‘Good to be contributing more than rubbish chat!’?" Wilkinson reached out to the photographer, and she asked him to take the photo down. He appeared apologetic in his reply, but to her surprise, he reposted her image along with their interaction. Apparently, he wasn't an unaware bully, he was a flat out Cobra Kai bully.

And we all know how bullying stories end. Let's not be those kinds of people.

That's why we all need to stop snapping photos of strangers and posting them publicly to mock and shame them. It is legal to snap photographs of others in public without asking permission, but this isn't a legal issue. This is an ethical problem. Sure, journalists and street photographers have been snapping pictures of strangers for decades, and paparazzi have been harassing celebrities since forever. But does that make it right for us to shame strangers? After all, there's a fine line between holding someone accountable versus just being mean.

Recently, a comic/actor, who was the star of an ABC comedy and had over 14,000 Facebook fans, posted a photograph of a young Asian woman using a long handle device to snap a selfie. The woman was having breakfast alone, and from the photograph, it appeared that the actor was seated at the table next to her. Her action was ridiculous, and his post was an interesting commentary on our narcissistic culture. However, there was a darkness that came with the posting when he captioned it, "Check out this oriental...I mean continental breakfast. #selfrie." Thankfully, his fans mostly made selfie jokes in the comments section, but I cringed when the dog eating reference emerged. That's when I commented that it wasn't necessary to use the Asian slur nor bring her race into the equation, and immediately some guy told me to "drink a warm glass of shut the hell up."

I replied to the milk guy, and he did not respond. The comic also never addressed my initial comment. My desire for a dialogue about the ethics of a celebrity humiliating a stranger never came to fruition. I should note that I know that this comic is not a racist and that he was making a joke, even though it was one I didn't like; but the meanness of alluding to a stranger as an "Oriental" and making fun of how she speaks by posting "selfrie" just can't be denied.

Overall, the internet has made it too easy for us to succumb to our inner bullies. A general rule before posting a photo of a stranger--would you be comfortable if that person confronted you about your photo and caption? If so, then post away. If not, don't be a cruel coward and hide behind your computer because nowadays, you're going to be found out anyway. Accountability is a two-way street.

1 comment:

  1. Yelp users have been bullying for years.

    ReplyDelete