The recent viral story about a woman meeting a cute guy on a plane has received backlash from all around the internet. It seemed to check every box in the “The Internet Is Bad” playbook: an actor — the original tweeter, Rosey Blair — hungry for attention, an everyday civilian subjected to viral fame against her will, and the internet going out of its way to doxx and harass the woman in the story.
What Blair did and continues to do as she stokes the flames of this story despite knowing this woman wants no part of it goes beyond intrusive. It is selfish, disrespectful harassment. The violation of this woman’s privacy is less important than Blair’s growing platform and ambition. It is not a romantic comedy for the digital age, it is an act of dehumanization. It is a taking of someone else’s identity and privacy for your own purposes. That this is happening online makes it more, not less serious—its impact is instant, and anyone can join in the fun.
A friend of mine asked if I’d thought through the contradiction of criticizing Blair publicly like this, when she’s another not-quite public figure too. I am projecting my own assumptions about Blair’s motivations—it’s entirely possible she’s swept up in the rush of going viral and not thinking through the ethical ramifications of every post she makes on social media right now. But Blair is not just posting about her own life; she has taken non-consenting parties along for the ride. While Blair uploads gorgeous Instagram photography to celebrate her body on her birthday (I say this genuinely: you go, girl), the woman on the plane has deleted her own Instagram account after receiving violent abuse from the army Blair created. As the content creator of this media circus, Blair is responsible for the behavior of its fans. When faced with the opportunity to discourage their privacy violations, she has done the opposite: “I’m sure you guys are sneaky.”
You become a public figure the instant that someone else decides you are worthy of interest, even if you are minding your damn business. Maybe you will tweet a joke. Maybe you will squint in a friend’s photograph. Maybe you will yodel in a Walmart. Or maybe you will board a plane.