Stop canceling normal people going viral (2023)

What's worse, cheating on someone you met on a dating app, or calling that guy's work place and demanding that they be fired for cheating on a dating app? This is a question no one in the world should be pondering, but unfortunately it's the kind of question we have to ask ourselves every time a random person is anointed the protagonist of the internet.

What I'm talking about in this case is a guy known as"Westerly Caleb",a 25 year old who works in West Elm and to this day doesn't seem to be very funny. On TikTok, several women accused him of ghosting, sending unsolicited photos of his penis, and planning multiple dates on the same day. If you've ever been a 25-year-old bachelor in New York City, that sort of behavior, while certainly not good, is very rare.

But what happened next followed exactly the same pattern asanything that has ever gone viral on TikTok🇧🇷 Millions of people have invested in this drama (niche! Not very interesting!) because it gives us something to easily get angry, curious or hypocritical, something to project our own experiences and so even more content to grow the contribute to avalanche. Some, of course, decided to find the address, phone number, place of work of the main character and share it on the Internet.


Replied to @jalmones#green screenYes, this man ghosted me on Saturday and I found out via Tik Tok :-) Anyway, enjoy another sad dating story of mine#New York #fyp #Affair #Hinge

♬ Original audio - required

Needless to say, the punishment doesn't seem to match the crime exactly. What started at the level of juicy group chat drama has escalated into a national conversation that ignores all scale and scale. The same happened with other people who were the subject of such dynamics:Sabrina PraterFor example, the trans woman who was accused of being a serial killer for posting a video of her dance allegedly in "bad vibes," or Couch Guy, whose crime seemed disinterested when he saw his girlfriend on one Video entered the room .from TikTok.

"It's on social media, so it's public!" one could defend people's right to pose as forensic analysts on social media, and that's true. But this justification often applies when a) the person posting is someone important, like a celebrity or politician, and b) when the stakes are high. In most cases of cancellation by ordinary people, the rules are not followed. Instead, it's the work of mafia justice and the vigilante detective who's usually reserved, say, for exposing the Zodiac Killer, except armed against regular people.

In other words, it iscancel culturein its most terrifying form. And thanks to algorithms that prioritize engagement above all else, what annoys people the most comes out. West Elm Caleb is just the latest of many to come.

The fall of the boy on the couch

Imagine: you, a student, are about to surprise your long-distance friend at your own school. You choreographed the moment; Their mutual friends are there to help him orchestrate and film the big reveal. You enter the room, he gets up to hug you, everyone smiles. They set the resulting video to an Ellie Goulding song set at the rom-com's emotional peak.Bridget Jones' baby🇧🇷 Post on TikTok.

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What is thatLauren Zarras did it on September 21st, although nothing that happened after that went as planned. Almost immediately, commentators began joking about the "bad vibes" in the video. "Can you FEEL the strange tension bro?" wrote one.

Many noticed that her boyfriend was sitting on the couch with three other girls when Lauren entered the room. "Girl he ain't loyal," said another commenter. "He hugged her at Christmas dinner like she was his aunt." "I've never seen anyone so unhappy to see their girlfriend." As of Friday afternoon, it had 60 million views.

Lauren and her boyfriend, now known online as "Couch Guy," found themselves in a mutual predicament: they posted something online to get a certain reaction, and then got the opposite. There are all sorts of flavors of this phenomenon, from the college student who posted a clip of his newly released song.only to be mocked for it, to the spiritual influencer whose video on coincidences and manifestationsYou turned it into a meme🇧🇷 Last week a womanpublished a storyto the Times about an alleged insult from a fellow writer, presumably believing he seemed nice but turned out to be a main character on Twitter (never a good thing).

Withinan essay for the blackboard, Couch Guy, real name Robert McCoy, wrote that he was "the subject of frame-by-frame analysis of body language, diagnoses of armchair psychopathy, comparisons to convicted murderers, and general discussions of my 'bad mood'."

Awkward moments have delighted audiences throughout history. To theQuestionson what happens when ordinary people go viral for the wrong reasons, Melissa Dahl, author ofEmbarrassing: A theory of weirdness,He told me that it's natural for people to have glee. "It's our brain that gives us a dose of exposure therapy," he said. "Maybe the same thing happens to people who are drawn to scary content, [maybe they're] people whose deepest fear is being banned or ridiculed."

But the way the internet conspired to create viral moments of normal people was born maybe a decade ago, when Rebecca Black became the epitome of the spoiled, rich kid stereotype with a mean, cocky music video. Platforms like TikTok, where even people with few or no followers often go viral overnight, speed up the humiliation process.

The real toxicity of these types of conversations doesn't come from the viewers, but from the net-sleuth dynamic that unfolds afterwards.League that BuzzFeedPhotos of Couch Guy apparently taking the girl's phone next to him for 'suspicious behavior' while othersclaimed the makersThey realized he was cheating because a suspiciously placed arm and a black hair bow appeared on Couch Guy's wrist. a womanI made a warning videoLauren on how the girls on the couch "are not her friends" because they didn't immediately jump up to hug her.

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Lauren, like everyone else in the video, vehemently denied any suspicious behavior. "These comments are getting ridiculous and I don't know why they are suggesting so much about our relationship," he saiduh TikTok🇧🇷 The guy on the couch himselfmade one that said:: “Not everything is true crime. Don't be a parasocial villain," but his comments section is still full of people saying things like, "You can light your girlfriend, you can't light all of TikTok."

Couchjungeroommate complainedof people in their bedrooms texting under the door trying to ask for the video. "You guys are so scary sometimes, I can't."is said🇧🇷 A tour of Lauren's past TikToks shows how commenters flock to each and address what they sayexact moment they think "he's lost interestin it andgive hints how, "It's like watching a soap opera and knowing who the villain is."

People love to gossip and create drama where there is none, even more so during the quieter pandemic.Sweet🇧🇷 However, there's a difference between speculating about a celebrity's love life and a random college couple who, whether they get together or not, insist they're happy now. There are real consequences that can quickly become frightening. It's time to leave West Elm Caleb, Couch Guy and all the unfortunate souls who are becoming the internet's next reluctant protagonist alone.

Update Jan 21 3pm ET:This story was originally published on October 12, 2021 and has been updated to include details about West Elm Caleb.

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