Two recent examples which went viral in Denmark show how mass hysteria has replaced actually talking to people.
Once upon a time good behaviour was the norm, and if your fellow citizens did something unacceptable it was perfectly fine – expected, even – to let them know when they were out of line. Older generations will still do this, whereas the rest of us have come to fear the consequences of rebuking strangers. A friend of mine, for instance was beat up and robbed a few years ago for having the nerve to ask a fellow train passenger to put out his cigarette. This increasingly publicized raw behaviour has led us to mostly shut up when we see something.
But staying silent is not the same as not caring, as should be obvious to anyone following viral Facebook posts the last few weeks.
Case 1: Parcel delivery service GLS were exposed in this incident on 26 January for rough handling of parcels. Instead of intervening, the bystander chose to film the incident on his mobile and post it on Facebook. Perhaps a wise choice, as one of the employees seems to threaten him once he is discovered.
Case 2: A professional childminder apparently left five children standing unobserved outside a store. Once again a bystander didn’t have the guts to approach her, but posted a photo to Facebook.
Both stories quickly went viral. In the first case GLS suspended and fired one of the involved parties; in the second the childminder was temporarily suspended, but reinstated after a thorough investigation of the incident.
So it’s not that we don’t care about the behaviour of our fellow citizens; rather it seems we don’t have the guts – for whatever reason – to confront them directly but choose instead to publicly mock them without even giving them the benefit of the doubt. And with our almost morbid fascination with real or perceived injustice, social media fuel collective hysteria in a seemingly endless spiral.
I’ll end with my own example from today’s train ride: I could have asked my fellow passengers to take their shoes off the seats. I didn’t bother – instead I took a candid photo to accompany this post and prove the point.