On July 3, Twitter user Rosey Blair, @roseybeeme, live-tweeted the interactions of two strangers sitting in front of her on a flight from New York to Dallas. According to her thread, Blair asked a passenger to switch seats with her so that she could sit next to her boyfriend. Jokingly, they suggested that maybe the woman’s “new seat partner would be the love of her life.”
Plot twist: the pair seated in front of Blair and her boyfriend seemed to hit it off fairly well, according to regularly tweeted updates. Updates included: information on the individuals’ careers (both personal trainers), their in-flight orders (a cheese plate shared between the two), photos from behind, photos from the front, the fact that the two left for the bathroom at the same time, the fact that no wedding rings were present, their feelings on marriage and children, and even one short video. These were all posted on Blair’s thread.
Last night on a flight home, my boyfriend and I asked a woman to switch seats with me so we could sit together. We made a joke that maybe her new seat partner would be the love of her life and well, now I present you with this thread.
— Rosey Blair (@roseybeeme) July 3, 2018
The story quickly went viral, garnering well over 300,000 retweets and earning the moniker #PlaneBae, adapted from the previous clever but cumbersome #CatchingFlightsANDFeelings.
Eventually, the individuals involved were identified. Euan Holden, one of Blair’s subjects, is a retired professional soccer player. Holden reacted positively to the media attention from the beginning, tweeting that Blair’s thread was “hilarious.” The other half of the #PlaneBae couple, though said to be “unsure about the spotlight,” was identified as Helen Lam.
Holden and Lam have reacted to and been affected by their sudden virality in vastly different manners. Holden has fully embraced his 15 minutes of fame, frequently tweeting and posting Instagram photos with related captions.
Mornin’ world 🌎…? You guys are cracking me up with ‘PlaneBae’. Where do I even start the day? Breakfast?
— Euan Holden (@EuanHolden) July 4, 2018
— Euan Holden (@EuanHolden) July 5, 2018
Blair, her boyfriend Houston Hardaway, and Holden all scored appearances on Good Morning America and the Today show as well. Holden even thanked the #PlaneBae spectators for “being so kind and supportive.”
Lam, however, seems to have had quite a different experience. Despite declining to appear on television and to release her last name, her social media accounts were quickly discovered and publicized by excited “fans.”
— Keen Possible (@keenpossible) July 5, 2018
Lam was then so relentlessly contacted and harassed that she has “gone dark,” and deleted the social media accounts that were so voraciously sought after. So, while Holden has been relishing the limelight, Lam has been doxxed and dragged into a spotlight she did not ask for, and does not seem comfortable with.
The story has received quite a bit of exposure, with outlets including Bustle, CNN, Fox News, BBC, and The Washington Post reporting on the in-flight meet-cute. Most of the stories covering #PlaneBae, however, seem to miss one vital point – this is a huge invasion of Euan and Helen’s privacy.
While Blair did color over/blur out the faces of the two passengers,it is evident that their identities were still clearly and quickly able to be figured out. Helen’s reluctance to identify herself to the masses makes it apparent that this kind of exposure may not have been welcomed by all parties involved, had consent been sought before videos, photos, and intimate conversations were tweeted out.
While most of the mainstream media landscape is featuring the story in a positive light, there has been significant backlash from individual Twitter users who are speaking out and calling it “creepy” and “gross.”
Secretly recording people in public so you can exploit them later for content and viral fame is gross and everyone involved in the plane bae saga should be kicked off the internet except the poor woman who just wanted to be left alone.
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) July 6, 2018
cannot stop thinking about how creepy that viral thread about the couple on the plane is. it's unreal how the internet has poisoned our brains & concept of basic privacy so much that u could be 100 tweets deep on something like that & not feel weird about it
— Chelsea Fagan (@Chelsea_Fagan) July 5, 2018
That #planebae thread went from cute to creepy real quick.
— Angela (@TheKitchenista) July 5, 2018
There have been, however, a few pieces speaking up about the problem of privacy. Business Insider, Vox, and Vanity Fair published articles more critical of the live-tweeting episode than captivated by it. Business Insider boils it down to one simple question: “Was this thread cute? Or was it an invasion of the couple’s privacy?”
The Atlantic had a unique take on the #PlaneBae saga as well, the commodification of individual human beings. “It took the flimsy and serendipitous delights of their initial meeting,” writes Garber, “and turned them, with the ruthlessness of media churn, into a money-making proposition.”
In our age of pervasive social media, do we as individuals without celebrity have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces? As the aforementioned Vox article points out, though the couple were in a public place, “she [Blair] was photographing them and sharing those photos without her subjects’ knowledge or consent.” A seemingly light Twitter thread about a two strangers connecting on a plane has, in the case of both Holden and Lam, affected real lives.
This calls into question not only what content we consume, but the medium through which we consume it. Has our obsession with social media and the instant gratification and continuous updates that are associated with it created a society which normalizes the invasion of others’ privacy? As Abad-Santos of Vox points out, “Blair is part of a social media ecosystem that rewards users for these kinds of stories, fueling them with the gratification of “likes” and attention. We’re all part of it, and anyone who’s posted on Instagram or Twitter has probably done something for likes, hearts, or interactions with other humans. The problem is that we know what gratification feels like, but not many of us know what it feels like when the backlash and negatives outweigh that gratification.”
Helen Lam has undoubtedly begun to experience that negative backlash. Our collective media presence is becoming ever more pervasive, edging in on people’s lives and prompting a new analysis of the way we interact with those around us. We, as individual members of a social media community, or “ecosystem,” must consider the effects our tweets, posts, or statuses may have. The general media, as well, must evaluate the ways in which they frame such invasions of privacy. On an even more personal level, we can combat such situations by choosing to never post content featuring others on the Internet without their consent. #PlaneBae is a perfect example of how, in the media environment of 2018, the politics of privacy are still a priority.