Crazy Betches and Internet Consequences

I'll bookend this month of April with another post about a college-age young woman who has sparked a great deal of controversy on the internets.  Earlier this month, I talked about Suzy Lee Weiss, the misguided teenage satirist whose Wall Street Journal piece about not getting into college because she wasn't either a minority or a prodigy earned her some scathing comments and nasty Gawker ridicule.  Indeed, in the weeks following my post, Suzy has been the target of some robust criticism from her peers, though she's earned a smattering of a lukewarm defenders, like the Yale Daily News and me.  (And at least one passionate defender -- see my super smart, literary friend Amy in the last article's comments.)

I, for one, concluded that Suzy probably isn't worse than anyone else her age in her position, but what sucks for Suzy is that her airing of white-bred grievances is now public property that will follow her forever.  Thank goodness, I exclaimed, wiping my brow, that none of my teenage musings made it outside of AOL chatrooms and some angsty poetry and bits of notebook paper stuffed in lockers. Otherwise there's a good chance this blog would be entirely Blink 182-themed.

At least Suzy made the conscious decision to author a public piece -- she had time to edit, reword, and rewrite; she prepared for a widespread audience and almost certainly benefited from some professional revisions (her sister is a WSJ reporter, surprise, surprise).  Suzy, however impeded by youth and poor judgment, at least had conscious control over the image she chose to project to her readers.

Unlike poor Rebecca Martinson, known less by her name than by her coinage of the instantly-iconic rhyming threat "c*%t punt."  Ah, now you know who I'm talking about.  Yes, poor Rebecca Martinson, the Delta Gamma sister behind one the most profane and -- unfortunately for her -- most instantly, widely, redefiningly viral emails of all time.  Through a still-unconfirmed leak, Martinson's four-letter rant to her pledge sisters was featured on Gawker on April 18.  Since then, the letter has been referenced on network news, lampooned by The Daily Show, immortalized in dozens of memes, and given dramatic life by comedian Alison Haislip, Real Housewife of Orange County Tamara Barney, and most miraculously, Michael Shannon of Boardwalk Empire fame:

Following this unwitting thrust into the spotlight, Martinson was forced to resign from her sorority and was sanctimoniously censured on Delta Gamma's official website. (Love how the screenshot includes an advertisement for an in-house attorney! See below.) She was offered a job out of the scandal -- but it was with an online "adult" company.  Look, this email thing may not "ruin her life," but it may follow her for a long time, and, regardless of her ability to move on, Rebecca probably feels like her life is ruined right about now.

Click to enlarge! (That's what she said? What? Move on.)

So it begs all sorts of questions, doesn't it, about the ethics of what Gawker (and its comprades) are doing?  On one hand, this email was super entertaining to all of us looking in from the outside (I mean, Jon Stewart even thought it was entertaining!), and since entertainment is Gawker's business, by that measure, this email was a booming success.  On the other hand, Gawker flippantly ignored, and in fact, published,  a really reasonable request by the DG chapter president to remove the names of the sorority and fraternity at issue in their article.  And, though originally published anonymously, it wasn't very long before Martinson's identity was revealed on a massive scale.  When the email went viral, Martinson's Facebook and Twitter sites were exposed and she was forced to delete all social media accounts.  And, y'all, it's one thing to quit your sorority, but making a college kid Facebook is an unfathomably devastating punishment.

Reasonable anonymity request that Gawker PUBLISHED.
By no means is Martinson the first Gawker causality; just recently Gawker posted a whole bunch of actual student essays from admitted Columbia University students and mercilessly ridiculed them.  Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post wrote of the expose
"It’s not that [the admissions essays] are particularly mockable on their own, although some of them are (“All week as I looked at the Drum Circle, waiting for the Flag Ceremony to begin”). It’s that they remind us of how we used to sound. . . . Most of us experience a moment of revulsion, the moment when That Brilliant Story I Wrote That Should Be In The New Yorker, Like, Six Times turns into cringeworthy juvenilia."
Dear sweet Jesus Christ on a cracker am I grateful that none of my horrible, pretentious college essays are circulating around the internets!  Shouldn't adolescents be allowed to suffer through some of their adolescent assholedom privately?  Of course, the wide berth of the internet has let plenty of adult people ruin their own lives with tasteless, if harmless, posts, without Gawker's help (and sometimes even with Gawker's defense!)  But for those of us who still curse a lot and make weird jokes and generally toe the line of poor taste, it makes the internet a perpetually dangerous place to share thoughts (and certainly photos). 

So, this all boils down to some kind of a privacy argument, right?  I talked a few posts ago about the difference between people who put themselves in the "public light" versus plain old un-famous folks and the fact that the latter are reasonably entitled to expect more privacy than the former.  So here we have two major, fundamental rights at play: the Right to Free Speech and the Right to Privacy, and maybe also the lesser Right of Teenagers to be Idiots.  And we have this girl who's as much of an idiot as many of us were at 19 or 21, with a slightly better mastery of profanity and diatribes and pointed female violence, who has the reasonable expectation that she can freely say some rude, horrible, hate-filled stuff to a very, very specific audience.  And then that audience blows up, and then -- unlike Gawker's bridezilla whose email seemed far less forgivable to me -- her real name is all over the place, and her photos, and all of the sudden by virtue of this private thing she is in the public light.

So, in this age, what expectation should we -- any of us -- have that something we write is going to be disseminated only to its select audiences?   We've all been victims at least once of sending a text to the wrong person, or the dreaded accidental "Reply All."  But what if you accidentally "Reply All" the whole country, y'all?!   That's what Rebecca Martinson did!  Can't we all feel some core sympathy for her dumb adolescence and her unintended fame, because -- minus her email's "Mametesque exuberance" and perfect mastery of malediction -- didn't we all write bunch of shit in college that we're ashamed of?

And yet, here I am, out of high school, out of college, trying pretty hard to be a reformed pretentious jerk, but I'm still writing this blog, volunteering my silly thoughts to friends and internet strangers.  I also still have pictures on my Facebook of me wearing a side-ponytail and a stuffed Ocelot.  (Yes, wearing the Ocelot.)  And those pictures are from last weekend.  So, I guess what I'm saying is I'm not a very fast learner, and I will c&%# punt all of you if tell me to take them down.
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May 1, 2013 at 2:23 PM delete

I sure as hell am glad that there are no remnants of my Learnlink account left in the digital ether.


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