Dear Spotted Portsmouth,
I hadn’t come across your page until yesterday when a colleague introduced me to the ‘unique’ Spotted Portsmouth approach to celebrating our beautiful city. Ironically, as it happens we were travelling back to Portsmouth from a meeting on a national roll-out of training for Stalking Awareness and Cyber Crime at the time.
By now, every one of your page’s followers (and a few thousand more besides) are aware of your post a few days ago, subsequently removed, of a woman whose skirt had ridden up whilst she stood chatting on a night out. The photo, taken from the back, was clearly taken without her knowledge.
It would seem that the human approach – the polite tap on the shoulder and a quiet word to let her know what had happened – had passed one (some?) of your followers by. Instead, out came the smartphone, up went the photo, and so commenced the public shaming, bullying, and vilification of a woman who did nothing other than stand talking to people on a pavement, outside a bar, without realising that her dress wasn’t quite playing along.
What followed was a thread that quickly became a diatribe of sexist and degrading comments about her appearance and her choices, supplemented with the usual sexually violent name-calling: she was branded a “Slut”, and a “Slag”, for example. But this wasn’t a shock to you, because it’s your MO. In fact, you make quite the habit of posting these kinds of pictures on a regular basis – of women and of men, of those who look different, those who don’t fit in with the standards you feel people should be adhering to on any one particular day. You are, it would seem, the self-proclaimed lifestyle police.
Spotted Portsmouth’s Contribution to a Serious Problem
But back to this particular photo and the accompanying comments. In our line of work, this kind of culture is what we deal with on a daily basis. You cannot detach the nature of the comments made on this picture from the attitudes that contribute to the all-consuming emotional distress we see first-hand on a daily basis. When we talk with victims of rape – which we do daily – the first thing they always do is blame themselves. Why? Because society is blaming them too. 26% of people in our society still think a woman is partly or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing and 30% of people think a woman is partly or totally responsible if she was drunk. We live in a society where women are constantly criticised – for their appearance, the way they dress, how much they have had to drink, and whether they fit into the narrowly-defined and constantly-changing societal view of ‘acceptable’. Your page, in the posting of this photo and in your general disregard for the wishes and feelings of others, supports and promotes these attitudes. And it’s not just women – anyone is fair game if your history is anything to go by.
Since this post has subsequently been removed, I might have assumed that you agreed with the danger of supporting such comments. Until, that was, up popped another photo – this time of someone else – and so the cycle of shame and bullying resumed. Pictures of people drunk and “embarrassing” themselves are offered up for ridicule by yourself and your supporters. Yesterday numerous comments were left under these posts that clearly justified the actions of ridiculing another for the purposes of entertainment. Your supporters are resolute: if you don’t want photos taken then don’t behave a certain way, don’t embarrass yourself in public, don’t wear this, and for God’s sake don’t drink that much, because if you do then we have the carte blanch to bully the hell out of you with absolutely no regard for the impact.
What is perhaps most alarming about these justifications is that we teach five-year-olds in school that bullying is wrong, that deriding someone because of their actions, appearance, or anything else and ganging up on them is nasty and will hurt their feelings or the feelings of others. Even young children ‘get’ this concept. It is unfortunate that you do not.
But wait, you are just the conduit for the information being shared on your page to 27+ thousand people, so it’s not your fault right? Wrong. At what point do you so completely lose touch with your own humanity that, when this kind of photo crosses your desk, your first thought is to press a button and offer it up to the keyboard warriors of the world for public ridicule? Next time you feel the urge to get out the phone, stop and think, how would you feel if this was your sister, mother, brother, daughter, son….or you?
There is a lot of information on your page being shared about the right to privacy, apparently you and your supporters are all well aware of the law, but it isn’t that simple. You can read more about harassment here. It only takes for the photo you post to be shared a few times (which yours regularly are) before we get into the muddy waters of harassment.
Despite your prolific posting about free speech yesterday, I found it interesting that anyone disagreeing with you or appealing to your better nature was deleted and blocked. Some may call that a bit of a dichotomy but I will leave you to wrestle with that one all on your own.
Where do we go from here?
So this is where I will attempt to appeal to your better nature because I live in hope that behind your page and your computer you do have one:
It is time to stop. If people are offended it is for good reason. Next time you are sent a photo for the purposes of public shaming please pause before you click the share button. You have no idea who the subject of the photo is, you have no idea who their family, kids and friends are. You have absolutely no idea about the state of their mental health. You do, however, have a responsibility to understand that the consequences of your actions may severely harm them. We only need to look at cases right up and down the country where people have taken their own lives after being the subject of cyber bullying.
It comes to something when a petition is started because of your actions.
In conclusion, it only remains for me to leave you with the song I have been listening to whilst typing. Remind you of anyone?
Aurora New Dawn