Through These Eyes: Facebook’s Glass Wall
If you’re an asshole, own it. Be an asshole. Make no apologies. Feel no compassion for those you burn–but mind you–from your peers you will see none, either.
If you’re an angel, fuck you.
If you’re neither, we quite like you. You can stay.
But if you’re a hypocrite, you’re the worst. Please go away.
Very recently I found on Facebook a picture of an overweight woman standing at a McDonald’s counter awaiting her order. The picture shows her wearing clothes that are too small, and she’s oblivious to the camera behind her. The photographer annotated the photo with the words “Your ass … It’s on backwards” in blocky white font. (If you’re unclear as to the comment’s intent, trust that it was a totally asshole thing to do, meant in mean-spirited humor.)
This photo appeared in my newsfeed from a friend who’d shared it from another. After I posted to his share “I’m gonna guess you’re against bullying, huh?” I saw that the original had 1,500 likes and 1,200 shares, so I took a screenshot of the picture and the cruel comments that accompanied it, and shared with my friends my opinion: this is a form of bullying.
My suggestion that the photo was a form of bullying excited some people to agree, and a few to dispute. The objection from those who disagreed with me was around what it means to be a “bully.” Suggested were things like “This isn’t bullying. This is just in poor taste.” The word “asshole,” rather than “bully,” was thrown out in reference to the photographer. And an intriguing notion arose that using the word “bullying” in so free a context desensitizes people to its true meaning–that somehow using “bullying” outside the boundaries of face-to-face degradation diminishes its impact.
The last thought gave me pause: was I so determined to share my holier-than-thou opinion that I used “bullying” inappropriately? I write a lot about bullying, after all. I pretend to know how horrible bullying is, and I guess we all do at some level, but maybe I defined it too loosely.
Facebook allows people to share who they are (or who they want to be) from behind glass walls through which no one can see: people in the bask of their backlit laptops, thinking what they think, choosing who they are, and passing through their walls what they want the world to see. Facebook thus can make anyone seem instantly profound and sincere. Take a look at your newsfeed, ignore the grumpy cat memes, and take note of its motivational photos and its inspiring quotes.
Facebook, though, has also given rise to the Cyber Bully, providing anonymity, or at least a sheet of apathy, to the assholes who appear normal in public.
To me, yes, the picture is a form of cyber bullying. Under the crushing weight of a monster’s glass Facebook wall, a woman, clearly recognizable to anyone who knows her, became the target of a thousand jokes. For what took seconds and a camera phone, an asshole violated her dignity.
But assume that she never knows this photo exists. Does her ignorance relieve her photographer of being a “bully?” This was the suggestion of someone who’d disagreed with my “bully” assessment.
Well, think of it this way: whoever it was taking this photo wasn’t doing it to be nice; he also wasn’t doing it only to hurt her. The person who took this photo wanted to do something more devastating: the asshole wanted to throw not only her, but every person her size, into the judgmental fire of a cyber world in which the bullies can hide behind glass walls.
Moreover, the people sharing this picture are worse than its asshole photographer: they are the captive audience to which the photographer plays–they are his empty, ugly instruments.
What’s funny about all of this, if there is any humor or irony to be found, is that this army of bullies–the viruses that infect our newsfeeds with such mean-spirited humor–are more times than not the same people who feed through their glass walls the inspiring quotes and motivational pictures we so adore.