Back in the old days, a whole 10-15 years ago, you could make an ass of yourself in public without much risk of becoming a global target of vitriol. I know this because I got away with it for a long, long time.
Those days are gone forever, or at least until people learn to stop posting every stupid thing that happens to them every single moment of every single day. Now, if you screw up on social media and look like a jerk, you can end up like this woman in my hometown of Indianapolis. Matt Adams, WXIN:
A woman suffered a heart attack during a New Year’s Eve celebration at a downtown Indianapolis bar, but a customer’s complaint about the response fueled a social media firestorm.
According to a manager at Kilroy’s, a 70-year-old woman suffered the heart attack while celebrating with her family. A customer named Holly took to Facebook to complain that the response to the event ruined her holiday celebration. The woman said she believed someone had suffered a drug overdose and was miffed that the wait staff wasn’t attentive to her and her guests…
A manager named Chris Burton replied to the woman’s post and clarified that the woman had not, in fact, suffered a drug overdose but had a heart attack. He offered some harsh words for her…
You can read their war of words here. Long story short: Somebody got drunk on New Year’s Eve, she whined online about somebody else’s medical emergency she didn’t really understand and came off like an entitled brat, and the manager of the place told her off.
And this happened in Indianapolis, of all places. When was the last time anybody cared about anything that happened in Indianapolis not involving a football or a racecar? I sure don’t, and I live here.
Nonetheless, now it’s an international news story. The customer’s place of work, a hair salon, has been deluged with complaints and felt the need to put out a statement distancing itself from her. She has deleted her Facebook page, which is probably a good idea for pretty much anybody. (I took down my page for a year or so and then recently put it back up for professional reasons, but I don’t have to like it. Up yours, Zuckerberg.)
Sure, my initial reaction was the same as everybody else’s: “Who the hell does this b!+¢# think she is? Get her!”
But my secondary reaction was: “Hold on. Why do we need to get her?”
I’m not going to defend this woman’s thoughtlessness and sense of entitlement, and I sympathize with anyone in the service industry who has to put up with her. But so what? She said a really stupid thing one night. Is that really worth hounding her into hiding? Should it follow her around for the rest of her life?
I keep meaning to read Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which is about precisely this phenomenon. Here’s the publisher’s summation of a modern-day shaming campaign:
It has become such a big part of our lives it has begun to feel weird and empty when there isn’t anyone to be furious about. Whole careers are being ruined by one mistake. A transgression is revealed. Our collective outrage at it has the force of a hurricane. Then we all quickly forget about it and move on to the next one, and it doesn’t cross our minds to wonder if the shamed person is okay or in ruins. What’s it doing to them? What’s it doing to us?
Nothing good. Who needs Big Brother keeping us in line when we already have a million Little Sisters?
Meanwhile, the heart-attack victim is in the critical care unit of IU Methodist Hospital, and her family has set up a GoFundMe page for her medical expenses. If you really feel the need for some social justice, instead of piling on somebody you’ve never met who said something dumb and thoughtless on the Internet, how about using the Internet to directly help the woman you feel the impulse to defend?
See? Just there? I tried to shame you for shaming someone else. It never ends.