Last week, young model Melissa Stetten Tweeted a conversation she had on an airplane with a handsome man named Brian, during which the man had a few drinks, claimed he had called off a recent engagement and proceeded to hit on the young model, saying their meeting was "like divine interception."
When Stetten reported that the man next to her was working on a movie with McConaughy, a follower Tweeted her a photo of actor Brian Presley to confirm the man's identity. When Stetten Tweeted that Presley had imbibed three beers, a follower replied with a link to an article in which Presley is described as a recovering alcoholic, now sober for 18 months. When she Tweeted that he said he was engaged but broke it off, a follower replied, "Ask him how his wife Erin and son Jackson are." See her Tweets as reported by the Huffington Post.
It turns out that Presley is actually married with a son, and Stetten's funny-turned-annoyed Tweets to her 30,000 followers resulted in an uproar in his personal life followed by talk show appearances to address and defend his actions.
Not the first celebrity to be caught with his pants down, this seemed to be just another story of a
celebrity case of boys behaving badly. I wonder if fictional Seinfeld character George Costanza were out and about today, would he have been able to perpetuate his alter-ego Art Vandelay? Probably not. One Google search, and any woman he was talking to could Tweet, "This guy told me he's an architect--HA!" Sorry, George!
But was Stetten wrong to Tweet her experience as it happened?
Where can a celebrity go for a private conversation?
A thought-provoking article came out today on Social Media Today in which Stetten's social media ethics were questioned. David Amerland writes:
Now here comes up an entire truckload of issues including the sense of implied expectation of a measure of confidentiality of what is a private conversation, the responsibility to perhaps stop a self-acknowledged recovering alcoholic from having a drink by at least asking if he thought that would be a good idea, and a display of a lack of empathy for one person, however boorish, simply wanting to connect with another for the duration of a flight.
Let's take a look at these, the final two first:
- Stopping an alcoholic from drinking. I have a few issues with putting this ethical imperative on Stetten. First, she didn't know he was a recovering alcoholic until a follower Tweeted her such. Second, in our society, it is socially inappropriate for a stranger to say, "You've had too much to drink" just as it is to say, "Really? A second slice of pie? Aren't you a little tubby already?" or "You're fat enough to be diabetic--should you be eating that?" If Presley were acting inappropriately, it was up to the flight attendant to stop serving him, if anyone. For a passenger, it is an inappropriate and possibly dangerous confrontation to have with a stranger.
- He simply wanted to connect during a flight. Perhaps it's because I'm a relatively attractive woman and have been hit on in a variety of ways during my life, but I find it hard to believe Presley was "simply [wanting] to connect." Puh-leeze! It's highly unlikely that a man who is speaking to a model about their meeting being "divine interception" and lying about being married is looking for anything other than booty. If he was simply looking for a polite conversation, why lie about his marriage, huh?
Now Amberland's first point, about the conversation having an expectation of privacy, has some legs. Is there an expectation of privacy on a plane? On the one hand, I would hope so--I've had some weird conversations on planes in which I probably revealed too much about myself. Have you? There is something about talking to a complete stranger that is somehow liberating and can inspire bizarre and inappropriate confidences.
On the other hand, with at least a dozen people within earshot, can a conversation really be considered private? If so, why do so many people have privacy screens for their laptops to avoid prying eyes seeing confidential information? And why are people required to wear headphones to listen to music or movies? It is precisely because the space isn't entirely private, much as we would like to pretend it is.
The ethics: to Tweet or not to Tweet
Next, Amberland brings up the ethics question: was it wrong for Stetten to Tweet the conversation at all? Was she unethical for not trying to stop the drinking or lying but rather for reporting it? He writes:
Social media however is a tool which has the ability to create radical transparency in every situation it is applied in. As a tool, it should not be exempt from the same degree of responsibility which governs our use of almost any other tool in our world and this means accepting some ethical standards.
Let's be clear on this count: any ethical standards that were broken were by Presley, not Stetten. Stetten simply reported on something that was happening to her live in a truthful and somewhat opinionated manner. That is what Twitter is for. Could she have chosen to be discreet and not report the conversation? Sure, that's always an option. But it's not an obligation. Stetten reported what she experienced while her followers fact-checked for her.
Presley is the one who was caught in a lie. He is the one who chose to drink even though he was a recovering alcoholic. If we question anyone's ethics, we should question his.
No one is questioning the veracity of Stetten's Tweets, only whether it was ethical to post them. I say yes, absolutely. She doesn't have any obligation to save the marriage of someone she only just discovered was lying to her--that's his job.