This is a case where it is all too easy to become judgemental so let’s focus on the facts and keep emotion (and wry sarcasm) down to a minimum (I hope that last bit does not kill me).
So the facts as we know them:
- On a flight from New York to LA, actor Brian Presley sat next to model Melissa Stetten.
- This was a wi-fi enabled flight and social media in the form of Twitter was present.
- Brian Presley is married with a young son.
- Brian exhibited a normal, male reaction to a pretty girl, striking up a flirtatious conversation.
- Melissa Tweeted it to her 30,000 followers and the world at large. (You can see her Tweets here.)
These are the facts. The aftermath supplies us with a few more:
- Brian is apparently a recovering alcoholic and on the flight over he had three beers (Heineken, Melissa tweeted, helpfully).
- Brian’s life went, afterwards, in the predictable tailspin with accusations of infidelity and falling off the wagon.
Those who damned him did so on the grounds of attempted infidelity (the evidence is pretty thin here), alcohol addiction (the guy struggles with it every day), sitting next to Melissa Stetten for five hours and 45 minutes (OK, I am making that up but there seems to be a whole lot of emotional judgement being thrown at a guy who has not really done anything wrong here, except perhaps compromise his own battle against alcohol).
Those who came out swinging in his favour really questioned whether there is anything remotely ‘normal’ in a girl who Tweets the entire conversation she has with a guy on a flight.
There was the noted ‘lack of empathy’ charge at the way she judged Brian’s lack of sobriety (he had already confided his drink and drugs addictions).
Where does all this leave us now? In our dispassionate and fact-driven approach a few points become clear.
Social Media is everywhere and its ability to create transparency in every medium continues unabated.
- Unlike personal interactions, social media requires a certain degree of skill to handle correctly. It comes with a certain sense of responsibility and awareness.
- Unlike personal interactions social media also places us in the spotlight. Left in the privacy and opaqueness provided by the dim lights of the airplane cabin, Brian Presley’s and Melissa Stetten’s story would have been one unremarkable footnote in the massively bulky chapter of unremarkable encounters between strangers on a flight. Stetten’s Tweets however invited her 30,000 fans and the world into that cabin right there, with her and Brian and that placed both of the under scrutiny.
- Social media is challenging our ethics. Nothing Stetten or Brian did is illegal. Her conduct however raises questions about her ability to truly connect, even temporarily, to the plight of a person sitting next to her.
By making Brian Presley her object of entertainment Melissa Stetten now is going to be judged by the standards of the actions she set into motion.
Social media is not rocket science. It does require, however, a certain degree of studied caution when it is used. Had it been used correctly this non-story which is creating all the buzz would never have happened in the first place. What do you think?
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