If you scrolled through social media at all this weekend, you were probably as equally disgusted as I was by a now-viral video.
You’ve probably guessed exactly what I am referring to.
On Saturday, a Facebook user released a video that showed a young woman on a YRT bus in the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) York Region, spewing a volatile and never-ending stream of horrific insults at an elderly female passenger.
“I hope you get cancer,” is just one example. Charming, right?
And yes, watching it is sort of enough to make you want to punch your screen.
In less than 48 hours after the Saturday-morning incident, the video had been shared and viewed over a million times. People quickly identified the young woman and her Facebook profile began receiving all kinds of backlash, harassment and threats. Facebook users wrote nasty things on the pages of the woman’s listed past employers. Memes about her began to circulate. People even showed up at her parents’ house and a Facebook group was organized to hold a protest outside of her family home.
The young woman has since deleted her Facebook account and her LinkedIn profile.
Every part of the situation invites an important conversation, and one that is only going to grow more relevant in today’s culture.
Firstly, we can all agree that the woman’s behaviour was completely horrific. And we need to be cognizant of the fact that – in our era of smartphones and social media – if you’re going to act like an asshole in public (or in private, for that matter), your whole display could easily end up on the internet for all your friends, family, coworkers and would-be coworkers to see.
Fair enough. Smartphone footage has played a key role in important legal trials in recent years, after all.
But, some may argue that – instead of filming the situation – the bystander should have jumped in to do something to stop it. However, anyone with a smartphone has become an amateur detective/videographer, with any bad behaviour recorded and available for scrutiny in a social media trial. We’d rather stand on the sidelines and document than get involved.
Not to mention (and just playing devil’s advocate for one tiny second), those watching the video have no idea what happened before the smartphone camera started recording. Yes, it’s unlikely that the elderly woman said or did anything that would warrant any reaction so vile and malicious (nobody deserves that. Period). But it’s a fair point to highlight that we don’t know what (if anything) provoked this behaviour.
We are assessing, judging and sharing what we know only from the video footage.
Most importantly, we really need to consider – as her brother outlines to The Toronto Sun – the young woman is said to suffer from mental health issues. And – at a time when the long-held stigma is finally eroding, as a growing number of people “come out” with their mental health struggles – such struggles should not be exploited.
“There are two sides to every story,” her brother told The Sun. “She does have some issues we are trying to resolve. It’s not an excuse, but it’s something we’ve been trying to take care of. I love her with all of my heart.”
Perhaps that the young woman is nicely dressed and put-together disguises the fact that she indeed may be suffering as badly as the disheveled man on the corner who randomly yells at passersby. So, say that this woman is indeed suffering from a mental illness. Again, by no means was her tirade warranted or something that should be without repercussions, but the online abuse she is now enduring could, frankly, be enough to put her over the edge at an already vulnerable time.
It’s safe to say that her life is pretty much ruined, at least for the short-term.
In recent years, social media shaming has resulted in lost jobs, severed relationships, reputations ruined beyond repair, and even suicide in some cases. People are literally paying for lapses in judgement with death, or being punished for one bad decision for the rest of their lives.
This all begs the question: When does social media shaming go too far? The next time you hit “share” on a post, you may want to really consider all possible factors involved. Most predominantly, whether mental health issues could be at play.