Last Wednesday afternoon a story was released about Adam Smith, a guy in Arizona now known as the ‘Chik-Fil-A Bully’. Adam wanted to express his views of Chik-Fil-A’s controversial stance on marriage equality. Adam decided the poor girl at the drive-thru deserved his verbal abuse, and that he would video record the encounter. Adam’s bosses saw the viral video. Adam is now unemployed.
I’m not interested in debating Chik-Fil-A’s stance on marriage equality. I don’t agree with said stance, but they should have every right to their opinion. What I’m interested in is the role this viral video played in Adam Smith getting fired. It reminisces of the ‘Facebook Fairy‘ back in 2007: a guy who ditched work to party was outed to his boss via Facebook photos.
“I, erm, have a family emergency to deal with today mmmkay…so I won’t make it to work.”
This got me thinking: has the social media generation turned online presence into a self-inflicted and self-propagating ‘Big Brother’? We are warned to think carefully about what we put online. But some content we might not be aware of, or at least we won’t be aware of how people with agendas might use it. Then there are cases like Adam’s in which people willingly post bullying videos, wasted party pictures, and prank evidence. Why do we do choose to share this potentially damning content? Social acceptance maybe, or a desire to participate the way our friends do? For Adam it seems to have been a social acceptance thing; he wanted to participate in a social movement, but took it too far. And the Fairy may not have known about the photo being posted, let alone that a coworker would pull up his Facebook page and show their boss! In any case, my point is the concern over our online ‘footprint’.
Today in one of my uni classes, named ‘Techno-Culture and New Media’, we discussed privacy and surveillance in relation to the digital age. Our lecturer reaffirmed my thoughts about the big, creepy eyeball we call the internet. As a class we discussed this notion that we do in fact use online presence as a method of surveilling each other and evaluating one another’s actions.
After a little digging I discovered that Adam Smith was fired not because he posted the video, but because of the backlash from the online mob, what I conceptualize as a new-age ‘Big Brother’. Within hours the video went viral, and people were not happy. Members of the public pinpointed where Adam worked and sent his former company hateful emails and phone calls. Eventually his bosses didn’t have much choice but to cut poor Adam loose.
In both situations I have to feel somewhat sorry for these guys. On the one hand, the Facebook Fairy did lie and that was wrong. But something about how he was outed via Facebook, whether he knew the photo was posted or not, is unsettling because it points to a larger issue of not knowing how our online information might be used against us. On the other hand, Adam Smith is a dick for what he did. But did he really deserve to lose his job? If not for the online mob’s surveillance, disapproval of Adam’s actions [outside the workplace I might add] probably wouldn’t have been directed at his employer. Adam’s company wouldn’t have had to deal with the fallout that resulted in his sacking.
I was angry when I saw the Chik-Fil-A bully video. But I refrain from posting hateful and threatening comments, not only for moral reasons, but because I can imagine what it feels like to be that kind of target. Again, not defending Adam here, but I’m not willing to cast any stones either. Something to keep in mind while we’re all playing internet watchdog.
Thanks for reading!