At the risk of stirring up the incorrigible defenders of the vigilante Applebee’s waitress, I must again point out that using social media to make a private indiscretion a public disgrace is terrible, grossly unethical conduct that threatens our freedom, trust,privacy and quality of life. The fact that the practice is gaining acceptance as something to be feared and expected is a frightening cultural development, and we are all obligated to do what we can to condemn it and eradicate it before it becomes a toxic social norm.
The Netflix political drama “House of Cards” provided a perfect example of what is wrong with this despicable trend in its fourth episode. Zoe Barnes, the ambitious, unethical reporter in league with Kevin Spacey’s deliciously diabolical House Majority Whip, has brought her newspaper’s editor to the point of apoplexy in a confrontation in his office. Already considering leaving for greener pastures, the reporter goads her sputtering boss into calling her a misogynistic epithet that she senses is just on the tip of his tongue. “Go ahead,” she taunts. “Say it.”
“You’re a cunt,” he finally replies. Zoe whips out her smart phone and tweets this exchange to her thousands of followers. “Call me whatever you want, “she sneers, “but remember, these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”
Wrong—not unless the person you’re talking to is unethical, vindictive, has rejected the social conventions of private conversation and is consigning the Golden Rule to the cultural trash heap.
Calling an employee that name is legitimate grounds for any manager’s dismissal, though it doesn’t have to be. No one, however, should have his or her reputation permanently scarred by one ill-considered remark uttered in anger (and tactically provoked at that.) Each of us in a mutual supportive society has an obligation to mitigate each other’s mistakes, but the norm Zoe promotes is the opposite. She believes that we should expect those whom we interact with to magnify and publicize our worst moments so our words alienate as many people as possible and cause us the most extensive and widespread damage.
Advocating such destructive and merciless conduct is the equivalent of setting one’s own house on fire. Why would anyone not only choose to live in a community where this was considered appropriate behavior, but even worse, take steps to make their own community so unforgiving and heartless?
Once, communities in which “when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand” were correctly reviled as the creations of totalitarian regimes, where neighbors were forced to spy on neighbors, and where every suspicious comment spoken in confidence found its way to authorities. Now advocates for relentless e-shaming see the same phenomenon as virtuous. It isn’t virtuous. It is cruel, vindictive and unfair, and so prone to abuse that it should be condemned by consensus. In a free society, we must have the right to talk to just one person, even if we say something awful.
Source: NY Times
Graphic: ABC News