Are people so busy fiddling with their electronic devices that they can no longer resolve disputes face to face?
It certainly seems that way lately. The insane tale of Adria Richards’ dismissal from SendGrid is just the latest example of the social media-based public shaming trend. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way endorsing Richards’ firing and especially not the horrifying comments and threats she received through social media. Nor am I in any way saying that she got what she deserved.
However, there is a case to be made that this whole incident could have been avoided with one real-life conversation.
A quick recap:
As Richards detailed in her blog, her run-in with two developers at last weekend’s PyCon event began that way.
The guy behind me to the far left was saying he didn’t find much value from the logging session that day. I agreed with him so I turned around and said so. He then went onto say that an earlier session he’d been to where the speaker was talking about images and visualization with Python was really good, even if it seemed to him the speaker wasn’t really an expert on images. He said he would be interested in forking the repo and continuing development.
That would have been fine until the guy next to him…
began making sexual forking jokes
I was going to let it go. It had been a long week. A long month. I’d been on the road since mid February attending and speaking at conferences. PyCon was my 5th and final conference before heading home.
It’s unclear whether the guys began joking after she turned around or as she was still facing them. Richards doesn’t say and could not be reached for comment. Based on her description, it appears that Richards eventually turned around and began simmering as she heard them crack more sexually charged jokes. As she recalled, “I was telling myself if they made one more sexual joke, I’d say something.” According to her account, Richards never said anything. Instead, she got riled up when she saw a photo of a young girl on stage who had been to a young coders’ workshop.
I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.
In the days before social media, Richards might have confronted the two guys. Ethically, that appears to be the correct thing to do. Instead, she chose a new option: Publicly shaming them.
As we all now know, Richards tweeted a photo of the two guys. The rest is history.
Such a blow-up now appears inevitable. Constant access to social media has done some weird things to humanity. Our narcissism is off the charts, and with that comes a penchant for portraying ourselves as public crusaders.
Civility, meanwhile, has gone by the wayside. For instance, a month or so ago, photographer Brandon Stanton leaned that DKNY was using his photos without his permission. So he did what everyone does nowadays — he complained about it on Facebook. However, Stanton told me he made no effort to contact DKNY beforehand, shutting the option to resolve the dispute privately. Though Stanton was right, he seemed to be putting needless public pressure on DKNY for what may have been an honest mistake.
(While Stanton’s story had a happy ending, two photographers named Erica & Shaun Kusche went public with a similar complaint about Delta Airlines. However, this time they were mistaken. It’s not clear if they tried to contact Delta first, though. The Kusches could not be reached for comment.)
Other forms of public shaming are equally prevalent.
Other forms of public shaming are equally prevalent. This Tumblr, for instance, collected some awful tweets related to the Steubenville rape case. Cataloging racist and ignorant tweets for public consumption has also become a blogging pastime. Yet the end result seems to be titillation rather than actual shaming. You read these tweets and you feel better about yourself because you’re not one of those people.
I’m not above any of this. I’ve tweeted pictures of people who annoyed me, like the guy who insisted on keeping his backpack on in a crowded train, and the woman who used an empty seat for her bag while people were standing on the train. Many more times I’ve mulled tweeting about the smelly guy next to me, or snapping and sharing a pic of someone with a horribly bad toupee — just for fun.
But I realize now this is not a good impulse. It’s based in cowardice and judgmentallism and we should do our best to ignore it. The rule of thumb should be: If you would feel horrified if the person you’re tweeting about read your tweet, then you shouldn’t do it. And if you feel like you’re shaming someone for the public good, then you’re probably just being a wee bit self-righteous.
Here’s a better idea: The next time you feel outraged about something someone near you is doing, put your phone down and go talk to that person. Either that or shut up and mind your own business.
Image courtesy of YouTube, Fox Searchlight Pictures
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