I've known a lot of jerks in my day, specifically jerks my friends are inexplicably in love with.
These men have been rudely too familiar, sullen at otherwise awesome "Scandal" parties, made "off-color" remarks in mixed company, disappeared to get their "hair cut" in the middle of a conversation, and even been dangerously aloof during make-or-break moments.
Almost always I keep my mouth shut.
Because in all the above situations, the women in question knew exactly what they were getting into. All their assholery was hanging out in the open, swinging wildly from simply annoying to "What does she see in this foo'?" The allegedly lovable jerks my friends were bunned up with weren't doing anything on the low low. Until one day someone was.
I was out with my then-maybe-this-is-a-thing sorta guy, who is now the guy, at cheesy club in DC. We were freaking by the bar when I spotted what appeared to be the back of someone familiar's head. I didn't have my glasses on so I wasn't totally sure, but I could've sworn that this guy looked a whole heck of a lot like the guy one of my friends was dating. In fact, I had just seen the two of them together at a party the weekend before. But the girl twerking all up on his junk? Not my friend.
"Dance over to that corner!" I whispered to Ike, who had no clue what was happening.
"I think that's homeboy Lisa's dating."
Ike immediately twisted around and in a sweet move that cemented our relationship glided over to Mr. Twerk Team so that I could get a better look. Yep, it was him. I spent the rest of the night clocking his every move from the bar to the bathroom, mentally filing all of it away for later.
But when I got home that night, I realized I couldn't and wouldn't use any of my ammo. Maybe the girl was his sister? Would Lisa even believe me? Did she already know they weren't exclusive? Would it embarrass her if I said something?
It wasn't like I was snooping. The guy was doing the lambada in a public place in a pretty small town. I reasoned that if he was up to something, someone would find out. You don't have to police the criminally stupid, they'll eventually do the work for you. And that's exactly what happened.
I was thinking the same thing when I read about the meme-worthy "If this is your husband" Facebook story. Basically a woman riding the commuter train had to listen to a group of guys loudly joking about cheating on their dumb and unsuspecting wives. Fed up, she took a picture of one of the men and posted it along with an explanation of his bragging on Facebook with the idea that it'd be shared and said-scoundrel would be outed. So far the post has been shared something like 27,000 times.
"This is the way we live now, and if you act like a jerk in public, prepare to be publicly humiliated," wrote Salon. And I couldn't agree more.
But right along with the instant gratification of good Samaritanism comes the thrill of being the good guy. I see therefore I judge -- and post.
To be clear, I feel absolutely no sympathy for anyone caught bragging loudly anywhere outside their own head about extra marital conquests. But I also don't instantly award a white hat to those who can't wait to document their own self-righteousness for everyone to share. Because the underlying goal here wasn't just to somehow harness the magical powers of the Internets for the good of a stranger (the cheater's wife) but instead to highlight someone behaving badly and by proxy someone (the poster) behaving goodly.
"There is, of course, one check to all this: backlash. Richards felt it to a disturbing and unwarranted degree; the husband poster doesn’t appear to have felt it yet. But those who publicly shame others now open themselves up to public shaming too," continued Salon, which referenced the controversy surrounding developer evangelist Adria Richards.
I feel differently about Richards' situation because as a female member of the tech community actively trying to make said community more inclusive Richards was directly affected by comments she found off-color and sexist.
By contrast the "If this is your husband" poster was acting as a perceived proxy for an "allegedly" wronged woman she did not know. The implications of presumed authority and instant access are endless and frightening. I could spot a teenager smoking weed outside the Wal-Mart and post a "If this is your kid" or a woman wearing a wedding ring at the strip club and post a "If this is your elementary school teacher" or a guy wearing scrubs coming from McDonalds and post a "If this is your nutritionist." The point is people do dumb shit. Does documenting it make that better or worse?
"Twitter and Facebook are developing informal mores and codes of conduct, just like trains and other public places in the real world. Whether we like these codes is another question: They can be as harsh and as unjust as anything humans develop to police each other. But increasingly, they’re codes we’ll have to reckon with," concluded Salon.
That's where we are now, the intersection of TMI and apathy. Where not sharing bad news seems akin to not reporting a suspicious package on the metro. Unpatriotic. I for one have tried to check my constant ticker feed at the door, the litmus test being a simple gut check weighing help and harm. Is this just a point-and-laugh post? Or will it do someone's body good? If the scales tip toward the former, then I put the phone down -- most of the time.