Friday, November 16, 2012

#amalynchmob

Once I confronted the manager and the security guard of a neighboring bank. Two nights before, the bank staff had a meeting that ran late. My car was caught between all their other cars. I asked the guard if they could move their vehicles; he waved me away. I would have let it go but after two days of fuming, I couldn't contain myself any longer. I went to the bank, asked to see the manager and the guard. I shouted. I accused. I berated. Not my proudest moment, but there: I confess.

Looking back I was exceedingly lucky no one caught me on camera. Who knows? The clip could have made its way on YouTube. I might even have ended up with my own hashtag on Twitter.

As we've learned this week, a phonecam and social media makes all the difference. What might have been a private confrontation can suddenly balloon to an international sensation. I'm talking about #AMALAYER, and if you need more elaboration: English-speaking college student berates security guard; "netizens" collectively tut and shake their heads in shame.

Facebook and Twitter have become vehicles for enforcing social convention through public shaming. In the old days, they had stocks. An offender would be held in the village square, arms and legs, sometimes even the head, immobilized between planks. Passersby would throw mud, rotten eggs, moldy fruit, even feces. Nowadays, we have hashtags.

But where does it all end? Is there a point at which we can say that restitution has been made, the offender forgiven? Unfortunately, social media can't provide any of these answers. The hashtags will go on and on until "netizens" tire of their amusement and move on the latest trending topic. Even then, there will forever be the stigma of infamy -- "ikaw to sa video, di ba?" Such is the wisdom of crowds.

Missing in all this is the element of compassion. Oh, to be sure, our collective hearts go out to the lowly security guard who has had to endure verbal abuse -- don't we all love the downtrodden? But despite what she's done, isn't the student deserving of any? Again, at what point can we say that restitution has been made, the offender forgiven?

Just as bothersome as the lack of compassion is the hypocrisy. Who among us has not had encounters with security guards? Who has not shouted -- or at least wanted to? And if the student put down the security guard, aren't "netizens" doing the same in shaming the student?

At one time, I too have had my moment of shame. I was fortunate that the matter remained fairly private. No "netizen" caught me on video and put me on YouTube for the hits and the clicks.

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