Practice Safe Vex

This weekend, some people I follow on Facebook were involved in a kerfuffle. A lot of small things went wrong, and it made a big mess. No names are mentioned in this story, because who said it is not important. How it was handled is important because a lot went wrong that didn’t have to.

rottenecard_56115622_vsk543fkyzHere is the bare-bones story: Person X, well-known in X’s field, was on an airplane. X was seated next to an overweight person. X and the overweight person had a discussion (not a happy one) about who could use what part of the armrest and seat. X is slender and took, then posted photos on Facebook of the overweight person taking up more than her seat and added some unhappy comments.

A few early comments took X’s side, making harsh statements against overweight people. Then, the tide turned.  The comments fell into different areas:

  • criticizing someone’s weight and blaming them for it
  • putting a person’s photo on Facebook without permission
  • defending the privacy of a timeline on Facebook
  • the idea that “you can say what you want in your own space on Facebook”

Lessons to learn from this embarrassing story:

We live in a public world. It’s hard to avoid being photographed, quoted and posted on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and a hundred other social media sites. You have every right to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be photographed. I understand that if you are in a public space, you don’t have an expectation of privacy, but this is not a legal matter, it’s an ethical one.

Legal and ethical are not the same. There may be no law against doing 5580292534_1a744e1dd5something, but that doesn’t make it right or good. It’s just not illegal. It could be hurtful, cause embarrassment, or crush someone’s spirit. Now we are in ethics.

Some basic social media rules:

  • Don’t photograph private people in a public space and post those photos without the person’s permission.
  • Posting anything on Facebook makes it public. Even if you post it just to your friends and family, they can re-post it and make it public. That’s how “going viral” starts.
  • Everyone has biases. They are best kept to yourself. Once you air those biases, you have labeled yourself. People have amazingly long memories about gaffes and biases.

Person X apologized by saying she had not thought the incident through. And she said she should not have posted the photos.

Many people replied that she could post whatever she wanted on Facebook, since it was on her own timeline. They seemed to have missed that what you post on your timeline winds up on other people’s news feeds. And can be passed on.

And about that freedom of speech thing? Every privilege comes with a responsibility. Yes, you can say what you want. But every post, every spoken sentence carries a consequence. You can say what you want, but people will also say what they want. So don’t expect to get nothing but support just because you are expressing your opinion.

If you are angry, do not act in anger. Think through the story and how it will appear to others. In other words, practice Safe Vex.

—Quinn McDonald knows a lot about putting your foot in your mouth. She’s had a lot of practice. She also knows that fat people are the last group that can still be victimized as a group sport. That’s cruel.




21 thoughts on “Practice Safe Vex

  1. Oh, the word kurfuffle! Had to look it up as I didn´t know it and fortunately I used the copy function to Google it as I had missread it as kurKuffle. I was a tad dissapointed to read (in a bigger font) that it was kurfuffle which sounded like fluffy in a “It´s so fluffy I will die!” way Ever watched Despicable me? Think fluffy unicorns and little girls. On the other hand I was happy to see the volume icon so I could actually hear it as I¨ve been told that the only way to know how to pronounce a word in English is to hear it. There are many rules and even more exceptions to them. Check it out. The reader sounds surprised. Oh, look! A kurfuffle!
    Thank you for my word of the day Quinn!
    Paula, who gets easily distracted by interesting words.

    • I’ve always spelled ker-fluf-fle, not ker-fuf-fle, but I’ve loved it since it was a tiny word, barely able to stand on its own. English is relatively easy to learn well enough to be understood as a tourist, because there are few rules. But it is almost impossible to speak idiomatically because there are so many exceptions to the rules. And you are right, it is a heard language. No other way to explain the pronunciation of Hint, Mint and Pint. I teach this stuff and it’s hard to explain it all to people who grew up speaking it. But I had to learn it (it was not my first language) and I sympathize.

  2. I totally applaud today’s blog posting and the reasons for it. While it’s not fair that anyone (no matter what size) take up more room than they are allotted, to carry it to the extreme you mention is more unfair. People should learn to keep disagreements between the appropriate parties, and squelch their impulses. The proper vent for this disagreement was to the airline for not offering larger seats to larger people or double armrests (why doesn’t everyone get TWO armrests to themselves?). I watched someone’s demand for free speech over good manners destroy two different artistamp groups online and fracture a carving group. How about a bit less about one’s ‘rights’ and more about one’s obligations to society? Sigh.

    • We really need to think about others–it’s a lost art. And from someone who has first-ass experience of a LOT of planes in the last year, no airline has enough space for normal-sized people. If you are over a size 6, you feel the squeeze.

  3. I truly don’t understand why so many people feel that Facebook is the place to make these kinds of posts. It’s so unprofessional and juvenile.

    We all have opinions and make judgments about other people (nobody is above that) but it is better not to voice them in a public forum. I don’t understand how or why people, who have a professional following via a blog, Facebook, etc., make such personal posts and except the loyalty to continue. Whether it’s a situation such as you describe here or personal day-to-day health issues or political leanings and views, these kinds of conversations and/or venting should be done with close friends or family.

    This is one of the reasons I admire you so much, Quinn…you always take the professional approach and keep private conversations private, where they belong.

    • I so agree with you. We all have biases–it’s human nature. But ALL social media (notice the part that says “social”) is public–even if you are “just” posting it for friends. If you use FB for professional purposes, then everything needs to be filtered through the eyes of your reader. A public persona is just that–public. And check your email, Traci, we need to do lunch!

  4. Well said Quinn! When I was working in schools I developed a programme working with children in art journals. I asked each parent to sign if I could use their student’s image and work 1, with other teachers for training purposes, 2, on my blog or 3, not at all. I also said that even if they gave permission, the final arbiter for publication was the student. It didn’t surprise me that most were happy for me to use images with other teachers but not publish further. Students had similar opinions however it was more focussed on their work whether they ‘liked’ their photograph.
    One parent who I knew, contacted me to explain they had left their partner and din’t want to risk their whereabout being known . . . hiding from your past or a violent partner is a hard thing in New Zealand.
    As a tourist I was not comfortable of taking photos of people (and some earn their living being paid for the privilege) without their permission however crowd scenes were another thing . . . try getting a photo at the Swedagon without anyone in it!

  5. This is an important post. I feel the same. Once you make something public you have to own the consequences of your remark or act. I have been witness to a horrible, vexing feud between Phoenix poetry friends/factions waged online on Facebook recently. It has been heart-wrenching, breaking up friendships and hurting many in the process. The person who started it has claimed ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘speaking the truth’ (at least HIS version of it) directing vitriolic remarks at named persons in the community merely because they practice poetry that does not meet his own definition of such and because they receive accolades and publication when he does not. As a result of his
    ‘free speech’ on his own facebook page, he is now being ostracized by many in the Phoenix poetry community, especially those who sided with or respected the ones being maligned. I, for one, stay far away from such feuds and misdirected remarks. What did all of his hatred accomplish? Nothing productive, that’s for sure. He continues his feud even as those he directed it at have moved on to more important matters. It seems to be much too easy for people to air their dirty laundry or to snipe or to act without permission with the anonymity of the internet. Except it is not so anonymous, is it? Thanks for bringing this topic to light.

    • People who claim “free speech” are missing the point. Hate speech is not considered free speech by anyone. But I’m not a lawyer, so let’s go for what I know–you are responsible for the consequences of anything you say–and that includes the outrage and wrath of others. It works both ways. I’ve taken up causes and had to delete comments from this blog, because they contain hate speech, which I do not permit on my blog. I also will stand up for what I believe, which I think is considered “wrong” in some parts. I’ll be happy to be responsible for what I say. Which is how come you have to think over what you say before you post it.

      Meanwhile–Wait! Phoenix has a poetry group? I’ll write you privately about that. I’m thrilled (even if it seems to be a mess at the moment.)

  6. Actually, there ARE laws against “publishing” any person’s likeness without their written permission via a model release. As a professional photographer, that was always part of the process.
    Unfortunately, the proliferation of phone cameras and social media has caused people to forget all about manners and the laws.

    • Most planes today don’t have extra seats. I know, I am in the air every week, sometimes four times. The whole thing is not to shame anyone, large, small, screaming baby or otherwise. In tight quarters, compassion is mandatory.

  7. Thank you Quinn.As a very overweight person,that very last line is so very unfortunately true,and had me holding my breath to see how you would write about the unkindness involved here.I work in a bookstore and a customer had the nerve to ask me if ” I ‘saw’ the diet books?” I said,”why,yes,they are next to the books on manners.” While I was glad to have an assertive response,I felt as if I’d be punished for it by risking my job,it wasn’t a good feeling.I hate the pain involved with being a fat person “out there” for the world to shame.Thanks for delineating the real issues involved here.

    • Jen, you may not know it, but I spent the last 15 years of my life as a fat person. I’ve just lost about 70 pounds and am still, ummmm, generously proportioned. I used to bear horrible remarks from total strangers, many of whom espoused “compassion” on FB, but forgot to apply it in their lives. I love your answer to the people who suggested dieting. Our culture’s assumption is that fat equals fault. If you are fat, it is because you eat too much. And yet, fast food places feed us too many carbs and servings that make us crave more sugar. Of course, people who have other food diseases are accommodated if their food allergy is the current fad. I keep being told that if I ate a gluten-free diet, my diabetes would “vanish.” I used to ask where their medical degree came from, but now I just nod and turn away. I need to save my energy for more important things.

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