Celine Naughton: One moment of weakness is all it takes to be a social media star
Published 07/01/2013 | 17:00
The condemnation of a teenage girl at the centre of a social-media frenzy following her drunken rant in a Dublin eaterie is out of all proportion to her misdemeanour.
"I can afford a pair of ... do you know what Manolo Blahniks is?" boasted the well-heeled youngster to a group of diners who taunted and filmed her on a mobile phone.
She frequently referred to her father as being a partner in a major accountancy firm and asked, "How much do you earn an hour – €10? You're not a partner, you're a pleb. Good luck with your life, you f***ing losers." And so on.
The video went viral this weekend and led to a torrent of abuse in social- networking sites and chatrooms. Yes, the girl's antics were regrettable and she is, no doubt, feeling utterly mortified already, but the online response was hysterical, extreme and sickening in its level of abuse.
Many of those involved in this stream of self-righteous condemnation are adults and should know better. The girl in question is 16. She's only a kid!
Did none of these commentators ever make a mistake as teenagers? Did they never cringe one morning when the memory dawned of what an eejit they might have made of themselves the night before and want to hide under the duvet all day?
But there's nowhere to hide when your misdemeanour is captured on film and posted online to be viewed by millions. And once it's up there, people say all kinds of things they would never say in real life.
Just as some drivers become devils behind the wheel of a car and abuse fellow motorists from a height for even small wrongdoings, so too do some people lose all social restraint online.
Even the momentary transgression of a schoolgirl is enough fodder for sneering, faceless comments to whip up a storm of indignation. This is the ugly face of social media, where mob rule can hide behind a wall of anonymity and attack at will. Welcome to the world of cyberbullying.
"Surely people have the cop-on at this stage, after all the recent tragedies, not to go to town with this girl," said the nephew of TD Shane McEntee, who took his own life just weeks ago after he had been a victim of cyberbullying.
We have also seen three teenage girls – Ciara Pugsley and sisters Erin and Shannon Gallagher – die by suicide after being subjected to cyberbullying in recent months. It is a terrible tragedy that these young people were driven to such despair that they saw no alternative but to take their own lives. Social media websites and politicians have a duty to crack down on cyberbullying, but the worrying thing is that for the perpetrators themselves there seems to be a disconnect between what they say online and how they behave in the real world.
How would they feel if their daughter, sister or friend was subjected to crass comments or vile abuse?
The digital age has created a monster. Step out of line and you will invariably end up online, with a global audience ready to judge your actions in a moment of weakness. It is an unforgiving environment in which everybody is a potential star.
Actors, musicians and politicians frequently complain about media intrusion, but having chosen a career in which being in the public eye is part of the territory, they can expect some level of interest in their private lives. The rest of us didn't sign up for life in a goldfish bowl, but like it or not, that's where we live.
As parents, we now have to educate our children that no matter who or where you are, whether you signed up for a life of fame or not, somebody is always at hand with a smartphone ready to capture you when you fall and upload the filmed event for the world to see.
With the anonymity of social media appealing to the prurient nature of humanity, the cruder, lewder or monstrous the behaviour, the likelier it is to go viral in minutes. And then the baying begins.