Saturday 29 November 2014

When did live tweeting strangers without their knowledge become okay?

Published 24/01/2014 | 14:12

A few weeks ago I witnessed one of the most cringeworthy moments possible in a very long time. I was on a near-empty, rural commuter train bound for Limerick, when a young man decided this was the most opportune moment to break up with his girlfriend.

The less-than-chivalrous bloke got up soon afterwards, left his crying ex-girlfriend and sat at the other side of the carriage. This happened over the space of around 20 minutes. When I told friends about the awkward experience, many asked why I didn't live tweet the split. "Because I'm not that awful a person," I replied.

All too often now, Twitter users try to get their moment of internet fame by tweeting irreverent and often cruel updates about other people without their knowledge or consent. Maybe you're on the bus with your friend and you're having a chat about last night's misadventures in a voice one decibel louder than a whisper. Well, lets say Twitter user @noseycommuter might be there and finds your antics so amusing that he or she whips out their phone and quotes your antics with a snide comments masked as an attempt at humour. Maybe the odd 'lol' or smilie indicating rolling eyes will also be used.

His or her few hundred follows also find your antics funny and retweet @noseycommuter, so your antics are now available to a wider audience. Of course @noseycommuter is delighted. Their 15 minutes of Twitter stardom has finally arrived. Maybe you'll find out that your private conversation has become a topic to be scrutinised online or maybe you won't. I'm not sure when this sort of thing started to become okay, but it needs to stop.

One of the first cases of live tweeting to go viral ended up being nothing more than a spoof. American producer and director Elan Gage tweeted that he was on a flight on Thanksgiving where he noticed a female passenger getting anxious. "A woman on here is very upset because she has Thanksgiving plans. She is the only one obviously. Praying for her." he tweeted. Throughout the flight he posted updates about the woman and his interactions with her. In the end, there are some insults traded and she ends up slapping him. Quite the imagination.

So back to the idea of tweeting a break-up. Although the idea doesn't appeal to me in any capacity, the same can't be said for one Mr Kyle Ayers, a New York comic. Late last year Mr Ayers found himself in much the same circumstances. He was on his apartment's rooftop when a frustrated couple. He then proceeds to give a blow-by-blow account of their turn from a couple to singletons. He even took the time to create a hashtag. The tweets are still available online and was lapped up by his followers and made into a story by Buzzfeed.

I don't know whether this one is real or not, but if it is genuine, it proves that even if you're not on the internet, online private investigator Steve Rambam's Orwellian quote stands true; "Privacy is dead – get over it".

So to that silently-sobbing girl and that gormless guy on the afternoon train from Nenagh to Limerick, don't worry. You may have spilled a lot of information on our brief journey together, but your secret is safe with me.

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