Let Me Tell You is a new series where Scott C. Reynolds gives you the backstory on the people you hate online.
Jason is a freelance photographer. He’s a Big Brother to a Brooklyn boy who has never known a father. A couple of months ago his girlfriend of four years cheated on him. He found out about it the day before he had planned to propose. He’s a good guy who’s been fighting through some tough times to try to pick up the pieces of his broken life. 10 minutes ago you dealt him a devastating blow when you and your friends mocked him mercilessly on Facebook for being, in your estimation, a “creeper”.
It starts with the break-up. It destroyed Jason. He nearly became a shut-in, leaving his apartment only when absolutely necessary to photograph Wall Street protesters and hipsters crowding boutiques to stockpile artisanal canned goods in anticipation of apocalyptic weather. Even when forced out among the populace on these occasions he could use the camera as a shield, putting his lens between himself and other people. Apart from taking the minimum number of assignments required to ensure he made rent, he only ventured out to see his therapist, Dr. Weintraub. The fledgling cocktail of xenophobia and agoraphobia brewing in Jason’s head concerned Dr. Weintraub enough that he suggested Jason try making low-risk contact with people in an online setting as a baby step toward recovery.
That’s where you enter the story. Since you are just an indiscriminate social media whore who conflates Facebook friend and Twitter follower counts with legitimate interpersonal relationships you sent Jason a friend request based only on the fact that you had a mutual Facebook friend. It didn’t matter that you did not know and had never interacted with the mutual friend. A new connected node on the social graph is worth its weight in Klout scores. To you, Jason was just another avatar to add to your collection. In fact, you sent 17 other friend requests in the same five-minute span. Jason was forgotten the moment you hit “Send”.
For Jason, however, the event was far more significant. It took him several days to accept it. He knew it wasn’t a romantic overture, but it had been a long time since he had thought of himself as a person that anyone, let alone a mildly attractive woman, would want to befriend. He decided to take the risk and make a new connection. Such a small act to most, hardly given a second thought. But to him it was a symbolic overture toward a new, repaired life. It was one small click for Jason, one giant leap forward in his therapy.
Over the ensuing weeks you and he didn’t interact much. He posted some photos. You Liked one. When you shared an event to all of your friends, his RSVP was a “not attending”, but he was touched to have received an invitation.
Not long after, notable things started happening for Jason outside of the confines of Facebook. Your simple act of befriending him caused a sea change in his outlook. As Dr. Weintraub suspected, success in relatively low-risk online socializing led to increased courage in the real world. It started small. After Facebook, he joined a guild in an MMO and began playing with these strangers regularly. This led to a physical meet-up, a paintball game, and regular excursions to movies and brunches with a handful of his local guild-mates. Jason had to make all new friends. During the course of his relationship, his girlfriend had divested him of all his previous friends, replacing them with new ones of her choosing. Of course, in the aftermath of the breakup, she got all the friends, and he got all the CDs that she had already ripped to iTunes.
Beyond making friends and becoming more social, Jason became a Big Brother. The boy reminded Jason of himself, and he wanted to give back, to let this young man know that someone out there cared about him and wanted to spend time with him. He knew firsthand how painful it is to think that nobody in the world cares that you exist, and he was determined to make sure this boy didn’t ever feel that way.
You brought all of this progress to a grinding halt in less than five minutes. You posted a picture. You know the one. You’re wearing a skimpy bikini, striking a pose that anthropologists would describe as “presenting”, and making sure that the sunscreen heart peeking out just above your vulva was prominently displayed. As a professional photographer, Jason was more interested in the way the shot was framed. You were inadvertently positioned just west of a magnificent rock formation and the camera captured, serendipitously, a wave crashing over it, creating a fine mist that refracted the rays of the setting sun and gave you a brilliant, almost angelic, glow.
Among the myriad “Dayum gurrl u hott” and “yo get at me bayb” offerings of your countless male (and some female) “friends”, Jason posted a simple message telling you that both the shot and the subject matter were exquisite, and that he’d be honored if you ever wanted to be his subject. Sincerity and proper grammar are anathema to your network, however, and you all pounced. You led the charge with a response of “omg creep stalk moar” and soon almost everyone on your friends list was joining in.
Jason scheduled an emergency session with Dr. Weintraub. Intellectually he knew that he couldn’t let this setback destroy all the progress he had made, but all he could do was gape at the screen and feel betrayed once more.
Photo CC Josh Pesavento on Flickr