#PrettyPlaneGirl and the Power of our Words
August 3, 2018
A digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, shaming and hurtful words.
It started as a cute online romantic tale.
A woman began tweeting photos and updates of a supposed “love story” that was happening before her eyes while flying on an Alaskan Airlines flight. After requesting a seat change to sit beside her boyfriend, the passenger thought that the strangers who now sat side by side may be discovering each other and “the love of her life.”
She began photographing the pair from her seat that was directly behind them. The trip was documented step by step. When deplaning, the mystery duo was still photographed and posted from behind as they walked through the airport. The unidentified woman was dubbed #PrettyPlaneGirl.
The tweets went viral. Over 20,000 likes and reactions hoping for this couple’s ending up together spurred a fiery discussion from the online public.
The male seatmate was revealed to be a former professional soccer player who became known as #PlaneBae through a wild social media storm. He was interviewed and appeared on a number of morning shows. The story continued to spread. Social media users tracked down #PrettyPlaneGirl.
Then there was a drastic change of attitude. Comments about invading the unnamed woman’s privacy opened people’s eyes to the damage done.
#PrettyPlaneGirl recently broke her silence. She blasted the photographs and the false narrative that was created.
“I am a young professional woman. On July 2, I took a commercial flight from N.Y. to Dallas. Without my knowledge and consent, other passengers photographed me and recorded my conversation with a seatmate. They posted images and recordings to social media and speculated unfairly about my private conduct.
“Since then my personal information has been distributed online. Strangers publicly discussed my private life based on patently false information. I have been doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed. Voyeurs have come looking for me online and in the real world.
“I did not ask for and do not seek attention. #PlaneBae is not a romance. It is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent.”
Is there any way to repair the damage done to reputation, the public shame and embarrassment? How often do we think about the consequences of our posts?
I am reminded of the famous feather story: A man who spread many malicious stories about others and gossiped incessantly wished to make amends. He was told by his rabbi to take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the wind.
“That’s it?” the man replied.
When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had followed his instructions, he was informed of the second step. “Now go and gather all the feathers.”
“Impossible! The wind blew them in all directions.”
“Exactly,” said the rabbi “You cannot make amends for the damage your words have done as you cannot collect the feathers that have spread.”
The Talmud teaches us that words of lashon hara, evil speech that wrongs others, are compared to arrows because they are sharp and penetrate. And once they’ve been shot they cannot be retrieved. There really is no remedy to the harm done.
Lashon hara isn’t conveyed only through words. Harming and shaming others through tweets and texts are also included in the prohibition.
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen, known as the Chofetz Chaim, made it his life work to reveal the evils of slander and malicious gossip. He wrote “If the message is negative it makes no difference if the lashon hara was communicated through speech, writing, or hinting. It applies whether verbally or in writing.” (Laws of Lashon Hara 1:8)
We need to think hard before we push “send.” Too many hurts have been hurled online without considering the ramifications. Even photos or clips one thinks is funny can be a serious source of shame to the person who’s being laughed at. Remember, this is someone’s father, mother, child, spouse or family member. This person has a life that is now being dissected; maybe even ridiculed.
The woman who sent out the original tweets apologized. “I wish I could communicate the shame I feel in having done this, but I truly feel that at this point my feelings are irrelevant. This may be coming too little too late.”
She is right. There is no going back.
The Torah gives us practical guidelines to help us be more mindful of the impact our words are making and to create greater harmony. Here are a few to think about:
Rechilut: telling someone what other people said about him
Lashon Hara: derogatory or harmful speech even if it is true
Motzei Shem Ra: slander that is untrue.
Ona’at Devarim: causing emotional pain or embarrassment with our words or actions.
Avak Lashon Hara: saying something whose implied meaning is derogatory or harmful, or saying a derisive joke with fake innocence
The Torah considers pain caused by our words as a real injury. It’s as if you’ve poured acid on someone’s soul. The wounds blister.
Our Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed on Tisha B’Av because of baseless hatred. As long as this malice continues we will remain in this bitter exile. Think about how much harm is caused each day through our words, both in person and online. With greater awareness and sensitivity, we can heal a fractured world. This is the key to rebuilding Jerusalem.
Slovie Jungreis Wolff is a noted teacher, author, relationships and parenting lecturer. She is the leader of Hineni Couples and daughter of Rebbetzen Esther Jungreis.