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Case Study #2: Fiona

Not everything on social media is as it seems.

So we know that misinformation and fake news is all over social media and makes it very difficult to discern from facts. But that also translates to many other things on social media: the way people present themselves, the stories they tell, the things they share. Curating a fake life online almost seems like the norm.

Moving towards the digital age has brought us closer in many ways. But it has also led the way to view many people’s lives as a “highlight reel”.

This isn’t always a bad thing-- one could argue that even in real life we frequently show people our best selves and leave out the rest-- but sometimes it can disconnect us further from the human behind the screen.

It also makes it increasingly easy to fall into a comparison trap.

Comparison traps lead to jealousy and make it much easier to lash out at another person.

There’s also an important note to remember: not everything you see on social media is real, true, or interpreted correctly.

Take, for example, the case of Fiona Moriarty-McLaughlin.

In June 2020, a video of her with a power drill helping board up a window and then getting in her car to leave went viral. The video gave people on Twitter the impression that she was simply posing for Instagram clout and nothing more. Even LeBron James and Pink retweeted it.

Fiona received death threats, lost internships, and was basically destroyed on the social media front.

The 17-second video didn’t show any other part of her day: especially her capturing the unsung heroes and documenting the wreckage of the riots. She wanted to highlight the common people working to rebuild amongst the destruction.

But one silly photo and a few videos from onlookers (who ended up heckling her) took off like an avalanche.

Fiona and her father’s faces were barely even in the video, or difficult to tell who they were. Fiona wore a facemask since it was during COVID. But people were able to zoom in on the license plate, find them, and begin the onslaught.

The social media mob posted her home address, phone number, and full name online for everyone along with “more death threats than she could count”.

Several news outlets posted the video as well, pegging her as someone searching for online clout through fake activism. Some reported her shutting down her social media accounts-- however the opposite had happened, and she was the one who was shut down by social media.

Fake accounts run by other people started popping up, claiming to be Fiona and spewing hate speech. The hateful comments and harassment continued for a long time.

So it shines a light on how easily things can be taken out of context, altered, or misinterpreted on social media. And it’s an important thing to remember when we consume as much media as we do-- before you jump on a bandwagon (especially one that is literally telling someone to kill themselves) think about what actually happened. Do your research. Don’t simply take things at face value and assume them to be true.

And, while it shouldn’t need to be said: it is never ok to tell someone to kill themselves. Period.

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