In a since-deleted tweet on Monday, Lizzo called out a Postmates worker, identifying her by name, accusing her of stealing her food and casually issuing a threat:
Hey @Postmates this girl Tiffany W. stole my food. she lucky I don’t fight no more.
Postmates Support replied to Lizzo on Twitter, saying the company wanted more information so it could look into the “less than satisfactory experience.”
If Lizzo thought that people were going to be on her side, she soon experienced a wake-up call. Many people criticized the fact that she used her public platform to attack a service industry worker with less power and could even have put the woman’s safety at risk. Page Six reported that the Postmates worker waited for the singer and moved on after five minutes, like Postmates employees are supposed to do.
Lizzo apologized Wednesday, saying, “Imma really be more responsible with my use of social media and check my petty and my pride at the door.”
Lizzo endured criticism from disappointed followers for endangering someone’s livelihood. She still has a thriving career. But when author Natasha Tynes brought her complaints about a worker to Twitter, it cost her a book deal.
In May, Tynes tweeted a complaint about a Black train operator in Washington, D.C., tagging the woman’s employer. In the since-deleted message, Tynes wrote, “When you’re on your morning commute & see [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] employee in UNIFORM eating on the train. I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds.”
She attached a photo of the worker in question — and found out that when you face the court of public opinion, the public may not rule on your side. Tynes was accused of being anti-Black and trying to get the woman fired.
The Metro workers union said in a statement that the employee was on a meal break while heading to her next assignment, noting that workers have “an average of 20 minutes to consume a meal and get to their next access point” and that citations are no longer issued for eating on trains.
When it learned what Tynes had done, her publisher, Rare Bird, said it would stop distributing her novel, “They Called Me Wyatt,” calling her action against the worker “truly horrible.” In its note, the publisher noted that “Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies.”
The employee at the heart of this saga was not disciplined, but she was “hurt and embarrassed” for being called out on social media, BuzzFeed News reported. Tynes is now suing Rare Bird for breach of contract, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Posting your grievance can endanger people’s lives.
Tynes’ story is just a recent example of users taking photos of other people in public spaces and creating narratives of what they believe they know about them. Remember the #PlaneBae saga, in which a blogger live-tweeted the meeting of a man and woman seated in front of her on a plane, assuming they were falling in love and having sexual relations? The woman being reported on later said she was “doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed.” It’s an important reminder that a meme can be someone’s worst moment they have to live through long after you have deleted your tweet.
A useful fact to keep in mind before you decide to publicly shame someone on social media and/or get them in trouble at work is that you do not know the full story of someone’s life and work situation, so don’t make assumptions. This is not to discourage people from using the long reach of social media to share injustices or poke fun of comfortable people in power who need to be shaken awake. But consider the social, economic and power differences between you and the person you are calling out: Are you calling out injustice to make a positive difference in the world, or are you doing it for personal gain?
When you photograph or otherwise document someone without their consent and post it on social media with a caption of what you assume is happening, consider the privacy violations. Would you be ashamed to explain what you are accusing them of in person? If you are, that’s a good gut check not to post. Have you contacted the company or the person in question before resorting to putting them on social media blast? Twitter is not an HR department. There are actual professionals who can usually be contacted privately without publicly shaming a worker who doesn’t get to share their side.
And if you are a celebrity with over 977,000 Twitter followers, like Lizzo, remember the power differences before sharing someone’s personal information for all to judge and take action upon. If you share false information, it can be too late to take it back. What is known cannot be unknown.
Bad behavior on the internet keeps happening in part because there is no consensus on how we should treat each other on social media. Digital etiquette is still new. It’s not entirely our fault that we stumble. By providing a running commentary of people’s fascinations and outrages, social media platforms like Twitter can encourage people to think they have a closer relationship with someone than they actually do. It’s up to us to educate ourselves.