By Leanne McGowan
I got an intriguing phone message today from a friend telling me about how a relative of her husband’s had recently became a Twitter sensation for live tweeting about a couple’s breakup on her flight. She said the story was “right up my alley” and that, like her, she assumed I’d find it awful. It’s hard to call anything this insignificant “awful”, even on a slow news day, but it is a prime example of social media users with questionable boundaries and social skills running amok (both the couple AND the tweeting young woman who gained 8,000 new followers could fall in this category, but I’m referring to the latter).
My friend was surprised that so many people reacted to the numerous tweets documenting this couple’s conversations word for word (with details about the woman’s sobbing, and the couple’s binge drinking and bouts of kissing between fighting). She had also seen that some people were protesting this shameless invasion of privacy and was concerned that the couple might retaliate.
I hadn’t heard anything about #PlaneBreakUp, but I’d already seen plenty of evidence this week about a lack of good digital citizenship in a University of Alabama sorority’s promotional video. When I googled “plane breakup” I found more than I expected, including an article refuting the entire incident. I think the author claimed that there wasn’t any actual video footage and only one photo, and that flight attendants would neither let passengers carry on in such a way nor serve them drinks while they were doing so. Whether or not the incident actually happened, and that in itself is a good lesson in digital/information/media literacy – authorship and authenticity, questioning sources, checking facts, etc. – I was struck by a few things.
First, it’s a teachable moment to use with youth and adults about how important digital citizenship is. This woman is just another example of how we need to work with students by 6th grade on the norms of appropriate and responsible social media and technology use!
Second, the lack of boundaries and judgement in what many perceive is their right to broadcast other people’s business (as well as their own) will almost certainly present problems in the future, if it doesn’t in the present. Digital footprints last forever.
Third, let’s engage in some critical thinking and discussion of the right to privacy. Did this incident go beyond an invasion of privacy and into cyber-harassment? This couple’s every word and action was broadcast without their knowledge or consent, while the Twitterverse had a grand old time laughing about it, and a nosy passenger received a lot of attention for it.
Tweeting once would have been a bad judgement call, but the fact that restraint, empathy and ethics never kicked in during this flight-long Tweet-athon (or that ego and the desire for popularity via Twitter overrode rational thought) should be shocking. Sadly, this woman’s behavior is echoed by far too many on social media, and although this isn’t the worst thing we’ll see in our media-saturated culture this week, the situation landed in my lap and struck me. #PlaneBreakUp will soon be replaced, if it hasn’t already, by another viral example of sloppy, immature and irresponsible (unethical?) behavior.
If we empowered young people as critical and thoughtful users of media and technology, I image that a lot more of us would have a better understanding of how to treat and not just tweet each other.