Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Ready for blast-off



Obnoxious people aren't going anywhere.

In fact, the easiest way to spot an obnoxious person these days is to find anyone making a concerted effort to brand someone else as obnoxious.

Checkmate, dammit.

I fully realize how rich with irony this column is going to be, but please, bear with me as I use the space I'm generously granted in the most-read local publication to call out public shamers.

Well, not all public shamers. But we'll get to that.

It all comes down to an issue of motivation.

I saw a photo posted to the Whistler Summer 2015 Facebook group in recent weeks depicting a small group of folks sitting down near the lift lines for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

The poster was displeased with their location and decided that the best course of action was to snap a picture and post it to an online group that those pictured may or may not have joined and certainly were not actively engaged with in the moment.

The photographer was confronted with the obvious solution to the great distress — politely suggest the group sit someplace else and, if asked, offer the explanation that they could be in the way of some riders or pedestrians.

Maybe I just sympathize because I constantly find myself just happening to be in the way, even in spite of conscious efforts to keep any pathways around me open. As you read this, I'm probably being asked to move a couple metres in one direction or another. And "Ginger jackass gets blindsided by El Furny waitress holding tray of hot butternut squash soup" racking up views on YouTube is one of my recurring nightmares.

It's all about audience. Are you truly posting as a courtesy to others, or are you just posting for you?

When the complaint comes from a place of moral superiority — or, at least, a place of "hey, someone sucks worse than me" — it's pretty useless. You're putting someone in the stockade because we as taxpayers spent good money on that stockade and someone better use it, dammit!

But there are contexts where it can be useful and appropriate to broadcast someone's misdeeds.

As we struggle mightily to keep bears wild and out of the valley in Whistler, photos of unsecured trash are a sad sight but a worthy reminder to us all not to litter. (Hopefully any litterer caught in the act receives an explanation as opposed to a mug shot.)

In a different vein, in recent months, a slew of hockey writers including Harrison Mooney of Yahoo! Puck Daddy, Steve Lepore of Awful Announcing and Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, had screencaps of abusive, harassing and unsolicited Twitter direct messages posted to the site by the female recipients. In each case, it took one victim to stand up and lead the way before others found the voice to reveal that the abuse, too, had been directed their ways. All three men lost their jobs as a result.

With harsh consequences for their actions, the writers' defenders directed vitriol toward the women who decided to speak up, often in terms even more hurtful and threatening than were used to begin with. With reactions like this, it's easy to understand why someone in a similar situation would think twice about inciting the hostility of the rabid masses.

And it's hard to believe the guys had no idea that what they were doing was inappropriate, but they still got fair warning before their screencaps were posted — all had some sort of "This is not OK" indication from those they had messaged. They persisted anyway.

Online abuse like this is best exposed the same way. If predators can access victims from all corners of the globe, their outing must go global as well. Denver's Dater, for example, targeted a woman in Calgary. Kudos to all who spoke out and protected others from the same fate.

But the justification of "warning" has an opposite extreme manifesting itself in the form of sites like The Dirty. While I did discover the site during a heart-stopping narcissistic Google search, I was relieved to find the Torontonian I share a name with is someone for whom I'll never be mistaken.

The accusations on the site fly fast and furious, with anonymous posters putting others "on blast" for everything from cheating and having sexually transmitted diseases to being deadbeat parents to committing domestic and child abuse. As stomach-churning as many of the allegations are, many users still find a way to go above and beyond the original charges and drag the conversation further into the gutter with blatant racist, sexist and generally cruel terminology. It's common for site founder Nik Richie to add his two cents with an extra cheap shot at the accused.

The alleged misdeeds, which are generally objectively worse than pestering strangers for nude photos, conveniently never seem to be captured in photos or videos. For all we know, the blastee's greatest crime could be being "fat and ugly." Without any hard evidence, it's a kangaroo court of public opinion.

In short, public shaming has its spot in a little holster on the tool belt of positive change.

But it's being used in so many situations when words should work.

And that's a damn shame.