The Internet — especially social networks — can be a great place to foster friendships, stay in touch, or make a new business connection. Social networks can also elicit the worst behavior in humanity, as the anonymity of acting behind a computer (or smart phone) screen can empower users to say malicious and hateful things to other people — even if they don’t know them, and even if they don’t even know they’re effectively slandering the wrong person. Last week in Seattle, a person named Andrew Meyer left a rude note for a waitress. Though the waitress was not the first person in the world to take the abuse of customers while waiting tables, she took it to Facebook despite the potential repercussions, posting the note — and the name of the customer — for her friends to see.
Power social network users of Seattle, many of whom manage social media for local businesses in Seattle, then shared and encouraged bullying, harassment, and physical abuse of the person they thought left the note via Facebook — some from the fan pages of businesses. Local newspapers like the Seattle Weekly even encouraged residents of Seattle to harass the person. Even Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better project, hypocritically bullied the guy. But it was the wrong Andrew Meyer.
Yes, the Seattle media and several residents were harassing the wrong person. These hundreds of Facebook users passive- aggressively attacked someone who had nothing to do with the situation, and received credible threats of real-life violence both publicly and privately. He was not the one who left the note on a receipt insulting a waitress (without a real tip, of course). Blog and social media platforms like Facebook enabled cyber-bullying of an innocent person using a mob mentality — cyber-bullying that borders on illegality, and which Facebook, along with the White House and MTV, are actively taking a stand against.
But what if those who wrote about the incident, either on social networks or blogs, had found the Facebook profile and information for the right person? Would the cyber-shaming be justified? One Seattle journalist told me that this kind of activity is just “part of the Internet.”
If harassment and cyber-bullying is part of the Internet, I think we all have a lot more to be worried about as a society than a jerk who leaves a nasty “tip” for a waitress.
Sound off: Do you think cyber-bullying is ever okay?