Public meltdowns and all such beasts

A while ago I had occasion to witness a very public rant by a lady I had hitherto considered a sensible,level headed and mature individual. The provocation was slight and the incident a little spat between school girls. As the mother of one, she took her rage to a social media platform, and proceeded to vilify the other. Needless to say, there were plenty of supportive messages, with people giving her the sort of feedback she desired. That it ultimately led to a breakdown of friendship between the two girls, and a loss of face and private dressing down for her, seemed to almost be an aside to the main story.

Which got me wondering about the nature of public meltdowns.

In recent years, we have seen plenty of celebrity debacles played out in the public domain. Be it an Amanda Bynes on Twitter to a Tom Cruise on Oprah to a Britney in the tabloids, there has been a train wreck fascination in watching them destroy their reputations. More often than not “exhaustion” (read drugs/overwork/tipping into insanity/failing careers) is blamed and they are whisked into a facility, and the PR machine has gone into overdrive.

But what propels the ordinary person to follow suit?

Social media is a relatively new phenomenon. Our Warholesque 15 minutes of fame is nearly always guaranteed through the platform of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all such avatars.Where previously, we would have raved and ranted and blown off steam within the privacy of our homes, or amongst our group of friends, we can now take it to a wider audience. From a previous Facebook poster (who is now MIA) who played out the breakdown of her marriage- “I think he’s having an affair”, “I am going to hire a private detective”, “She was sitting at the next table, and exchanging looks with my husband”, “That’s it! I’m filing for divorce” to the achingly, boringly mundane postings of another- “I think I’ll have Weetabix for breakfast today”, “Green dress or blue dress peeps?”, “What a sunny day! I love my life!!”, “Off to Malaga. Woo Hoo!” – Facebook is privy to all sorts, and by extension, so are we.

The above may still be read and dismissed, but the underbelly is harder to ignore. The new breed of Internet bullies that hide behind their screens and take potshots at unsuspecting victims. The Internet trolls who have taken hectoring and intimidation to another level. Much like the lady I first mentioned, these people are too lily livered to confront someone face to face and air their grievances. So they choose to attack guerrilla style, safe from any valid justifications or arguments that may counter their narrow view of the world.

So, what is the etiquette of social media? Where does one draw the line? What is appropriate and what’s not? And who deems which is which?

A simple rule of the thumb applies here. If you wouldn’t do it in person, do not do it electronically either.

As an inveterate social media user, it’s a lesson I have learnt the hard way. I now choose to keep my private life private. It is nobody’s business, and quite frankly, no one is that interested either. Let’s enjoy Facebook, Twitter etc for what they are. A frivolous distraction. They are not for airing our dirty laundry. And they are certainly not launch pads for silly vendettas.

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