When I was in high school, I went along with nearly anything people said around me. I wouldn’t just stay silent. I would actively agree verbally, while feeling that internally I disagreed immensely. Some of the issues were small, but other times I pretended to be okay with people around me saying downright awful things, thus perpetuating those ideas. Sometimes a glimmer of this still shows through every now and then.
When I fall into this pattern, I doubt my true feelings. Typically I’m very proud of my views, but every now and then I think to myself “Maybe I’m overreacting.” The worst part is not just that I convince myself I’m being irrational (also known as gaslighting myself), but that I will sometimes go as far as to very publicly go against my original and true beliefs.
The most common example involves me finding some kind of popular joke or meme problematic in some way, assuming I’m overthinking it and then seeing a bunch of tweets and think-pieces about how messed up it is later. Sometimes I’ve even participated in the joke between the time I decided not to be offended and the time I realized I actually had a good point all along. Perhaps my frustration is in part borne from a selfish desire to seem more intellectual than others and to show that I thought about “calling people out” first. But this desire to seem “woke” is not what any of this should be about.
Recently a possible budding romance between a man and a woman on a plane went viral on social media. The caveat was that none of this was shared by the two people themselves. Instead, it was shared by a woman who was watching them from the seat behind. The woman said in a viral tweet that the meet-cute wouldn’t have occurred if she hadn’t asked to switch seats with the woman she ended up creeping on to be near her boyfriend. The couple joked that the woman in front of them would find the love of her life sitting next to her and they got progressively more excited when it seemed this might be the case.
The tweets told a story of an attractive man sitting next to the woman and the two having a lively and chemistry-filled conversation. I read the whole thread on Twitter and got pretty attached to it, knowing deep down that it was a little creepy. As the thread continued, aspects of the conversation between the two were being relayed to the social media user’s followers, seemingly on both Instagram and Twitter. As I read, I had a fleeting thought or two about how weird I would feel if I were one of those people being watched. I hoped the people wouldn’t find out that their experience was being told to the world.
The woman who posted the story even later said in a video with her boyfriend that they went to the effort to find the Instagram accounts of the two people to determine that they were single. At this point, it definitely seemed creepy, but I still convinced myself this was normal because people were enjoying it. I clicked the heart, because I figured there’s no harm in giving a like. I enjoy cute love stories and this one had all of the exciting elements, if I ignored the complete lack of privacy that allowed me and thousands of other people to know about all of this. Still, I thought retweeting it would cross a line. There was something too invasive about this for me to want to share it with my Twitter followers, of which there are admittedly fewer than 500.
Then the switch went off in my head. The “I’m being ridiculous and everyone else is doing it” switch. I don’t know how many likes and retweets it had at the time, but as of now (Sunday, July 8th around 5 pm), it has over 300K retweets and over 900K likes. I retweeted it and justified this with the idea that it was too nice of a story not to share. Sure, the Twitter user was being a little creepy, but she had gone to so much effort for this (she even announced that she was paying for WiFi on the plane so she could share the story with her followers) so maybe she deserved the retweet. A couple of people liked my retweet, which is honestly not that rewarding. Rewards should not come before others’ privacy regardless, but sadly I let social media push that thought out of my mind. I had taken the bait of an attention-hungry social media user while also wanting a tiny fragment of attention of my own.
Later, I saw tweets and articles speaking about how much of an invasion of privacy this was. What’s more, a tweet alleged that the woman who had been filmed against her consent said she didn’t like that, and was being doxxed. I felt guilty for ignoring the feelings I had about how weird all of this was.
As far as her getting doxxed, I had tried to convince myself that wouldn’t happen in a feeble attempt to defend my involvement. But as a frequent internet user, I know that people are always able to find people on social media, even if it seems impossible. Furthermore, it had already gone viral when I saw it, so I should have known that at least one of the people involved might have found it. In fact, it shouldn’t even matter if they find it. It’s still an invasion of privacy.
Part of me feels weird writing this. It’s like I’m issuing a formal apology for a like and retweet when I’m essentially a “nobody” with a small number of followers. (Sidenote: I’ve since undone my “like” and “retweet.”) But it amazed me that I fell back into this pattern, and that as an adult I partook in something I knew was wrong because for a moment society had deemed it okay. I don’t want this to sound like a long tome about my guilt for something that no one really cares about my small participation in, but rather as a reflection and a reminder that we all need to check ourselves to make sure we don’t fall into the peer pressure mentalities of children, especially in the age of social media.
The truth is, I’m against taking pictures of and filming people without their consent and sharing it on social media. I’m not claiming I’ve never done it, but I stopped doing it recently. The last time I filmed someone (who was not a street or subway performer) without their consent, it was a guy dancing alone on a Long Island Railroad platform. I almost posted it to my Instagram story, not so much to make fun of him, but because I thought he looked really cool and like he was having fun. Still, I decided against it, partially because I had filmed him without his consent and partially because I don’t like posting Instagram stories showing exactly where I am for fear of real-life stalkers.
Yet somehow, when someone else did it I thought I could justify getting in on the fun. It shocks me to think that at 25, I said to myself “But everyone else is doing it.” And if I gave into this mentality, I guess I can’t judge the woman who posted the whole story to social media too harshly either, though I personally haven’t seen her post any kind of apology. Social media makes us all sometimes act in ways you’d expect a middle schooler to act: the subtweets, the selfies we post in hopes that our crushes like them and the oversharing of personal information. But this crossed a line and I regret participating in it. I hope the woman who posted the story has learned her lesson and that the people involved are now safe. It would be awesome if they fell in love too, but it’s not any of my business if they have. None of this was any of our business in the first place.