Please stop live tweeting people’s private conversations
Public shaming has gone too far.
By now you’re probably familiar with Elan Gale, who became internet-famous on Thanksgiving Day for live-tweeting his interactions with Diane, a woman on his flight to Los Angeles who appeared to be cranky about a flight delay and took her anger out on a flight attendant, and was subsequently publicly shamed on Twitter without her knowledge by Elan.
Earlier this month, a man in Brooklyn overheard a couple arguing and breaking up on the rooftop of an apartment building and live tweeted the entire exchange. Another man similarly live-tweeted a conversation between two strangers on an Amtrak train with hashtag #amtrakdate, mocking their self-conscious getting-to-know-you conversations.
And of course, the most notorious example of a live-tweeted conversation overheard in public is when Tom Matzzie, on an Amtrak train from DC to New York, live-tweeted former NSA director Michael Hayden’s phone conversations with reporters, which turned into a major news story.
This is the latest social media trend: live-tweeting a private conversation that happens to take place in a public space for our own personal amusement. Each of these stories got thousands of retweets, got written up in Gawker, BuzzFeed, and New York magazine, and were gleefully laughed at, judged, and mocked by much of the internet.
In each of these cases the live-tweeter has momentarily become an internet hero, and their dutiful recording of strangers’ conversations is celebrated as hilarious, epic, “better than most movies.” BuzzFeed raved that Elan’s tweeting of his fight with his fellow passenger “wins Thanksgiving.”
Not to be the Grinch, but can we consider for a moment the fact that live-tweeting and broadcasting another person’s private conversations to the internet for our own entertainment is actually pretty creepy?
In Michael Hayden’s case, Hayden is a public figure, and thus his conversations — especially those with reporters — become newsworthy because of who he is. But for everyone else, to have your private conversations unknowingly live-tweeted and mercilessly mocked on the internet is the end of privacy as we know it. We are reaching a point where average people cannot have a conversation in a public space without fear of being tweeted and recorded on BuzzFeed forever by a nearby stranger.
Tweeting the conversations of complete strangers has become a tool by which to shame people and regulate their behavior when we disagree with them. Elan’s actions were amusing, but his goal was to teach Diane a lesson via public shaming. In his final note he told her: “I am TheYearOfElan. Look me up online. Read every tweet. Read every response. And maybe next time you’ll be nice to people who are just trying to help.” Perhaps Diane was in the wrong. But what Elan really means in his final note is: look at how I just shamed you on the internet. Look at how all my Twitter followers mocked you. Now, change your behavior or else.
Whether Diane was in the wrong or not, that’s creepy.
Someone’s argument with a flight attendant, their breakup with their partner, or their phone conversation with their mom — it may be amusing to you as you overhear it, but that doesn’t make it fair game for the entire internet to stick their noses in the private affairs of a poor unsuspecting random individual. When did we decide that an average, unsuspecting person deserves to have their private life exposed on the internet? Why does anyone deserve that fate? Do we not have a right to have conversations with our families, friends, and colleagues without strangers meddling, judging, taking sides, and mocking?
For better or for worse, people still have different public and private personas. For all the time spent lamenting about how this generation overshares everything on social media, most people are still very protective of their privacy and choose what to make public via social media and what to keep private. Live-tweeting people’s conversations has quickly become a source of entertainment and a way to gain Twitter followers and 5 seconds of internet fame — but it’s unethical and unfair to regular people to broadcast their lives to an audience against their will. Celebrities know they should expect paparazzi at every turn, and they hire publicists to carefully manage their public image. Regular people certainly don’t expect to have their train neighbor or fellow customer in line to use their camera phone and Twitter account to make a mockery of them to their thousands of Twitter followers.
Defenders have said that if you don’t want your conversations tweeted about, you shouldn’t have them in public. Seriously? So we cannot have a private conversation with a friend, co-worker or family member in a public space anymore? A world in which all conversations have to be conducted in the privacy of your home and must cease once you leave the house sounds a little too Orwellian.
So what I’m saying is this: let’s put an end to the trend of humiliating people by live tweeting their conversations. Let’s leave people in peace to go about their business without threat of being shamed on Twitter. Let’s stop using other people’s problems to get more Twitter followers and quick laughs.
Let’s reclaim the last shred of privacy we have left in this social media era.