|Stone, 30, and a co-worker
visited Arlington National Cemetery, where they noticed a small sign near the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier advising "Silence
and Respect." As Stone had done earlier on the trip when she posed with
a cigarette in front of a No Smoking sign, she mocked the cemetery advisory by
opening her mouth as if yelling and raised her middle finger to convey disrespect.
The behavior was juvenile, and posting the photo on Facebook was offensive, but
what happened next was unexpected.
Protests about the snapshot erupted online, followed by a Facebook page devoted
to getting Stone fired from her job at an assisted living facility in Massachusetts.
Her employer responded by suspending Stone and her friend without pay. The Internet
went into overdrive. Finally, WRC-TV in Washington reported the story, after
which NBC's “Today” show devoted an entire segment to vilifying the
Immediately following the network report the “Fire Lindsey Stone” site
tripled its “likes.” Hours later, Stone’s boss made her dismissal
permanent, despite her apology about the photo.
Stone wrote on Facebook that she “meant no disrespect to people that
serve or have served our country,” explaining that she was “challenging
authority in general.”
Perhaps she’s naïve as well as impudent. But even in an era marked
by intemperate social and political debate, the content on the “Fire Lindsey
Stone” website is chilling. In addition to calling the woman every vile
name possible, posters had published her phone number and address, along with
those of her employer.
NBC’s decision to run the story, especially the way it did, is even
more troubling – the media equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire. “It’s
sad,” “it’s horrible,” “what’s happening
to this world?” said the three anonymous people “Today” chose
to broadcast. They weren’t talking about the Internet or media; they were
referring to Stone’s offending photo. There was also the VFW member “Today” found
in Hyannis, Mass., offering the comment, “Pretty disrespectful and stupid.”
NBC’s Natalie Morales concluded her report by predicting, “I think
she’s not going to be having a job after this.” Is Morales siding
with the Facebook mob that believes Stone deserved to be fired? The four “Today” hosts
discussing the story seemed only to be concerned with the photo, not the violation
of the woman’s right to free speech, or the slander being heaped upon her
“Today” and its network counterparts report daily on what’s “trending” in
social media. Cable channels, too, are quick to run photos from Twitter – such
as those during Hurricane Sandy – without checking their authenticity.
These channels also run Tweets and Internet postings at the bottom of the screen,
without knowledge of who the sender might be.
The result of all this is that mainstream media are gradually becoming tools
of social media.
Lindsey Stone shouldn’t have lost her job. Nor should she be subjected
to the barrage of hate that has erupted over her warped idea of what’s
funny, and her misguided decision to post a photo of it online.
For their part, “Today” and other mass media must reassess the
difference between shedding light and lighting a fire.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.