Hayley Brooks & Ali Kokot | Forward thinking

Think Twice | Snapchat gone wrong — how one app has uncovered a disturbing trend of disrespect

· February 6, 2013, 12:31 am

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Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
Think Twice

While Beyonce was caught lipsyncing at the Presidential Inauguration, first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama were caught in the act — of Snapchat.

As a bystander, watching someone make goofy, unforgiving faces into her phone is almost as awkward as grinding. Is she checking for broccoli remains or trying to look sexy for her boyfriend?

While Snapchat has morphed into a source of narcissistic fun for some, at its inception, many thought it was a means to share our private parts publicly. Snapchat’s primary appeal is its impermanence. After a self-timer, the photo claims to vanish into thin air. No repercussions.

As if.

As was soon discovered, it’s all too easy to take a screenshot of the snap. The sender will be notified (thanks?), but the photo is now out of their hands.

Let’s get real, nothing sent is safe.

Just last month, Syracuse was rocked when an incriminating Snapchat of a passed-out undergrad went viral. While we’ve all been warned against sending pictures of ourselves in the buff, what’s more worrisome is that we don’t seem the least bit concerned about forwarding, sharing and further exploiting our peers. Worse, this trend is not bounded by the cybersphere — it’s alive in real time.

A Wharton student who wished to remain anonymous based on the sensitive nature of what she witnessed transcribed a particularly alarming scene at a fraternity party.

As a freshman girl lay barely conscious on the floor, a boy proceeded to dry hump her for a room that was egging him on. Like a crowd mesmerized by a freak show, they didn’t stop until the Wharton girl objected, breaking up the act, admonishing the participants and making sure the girl was okay.

“It was so shocking and repulsive that the room didn’t know what else to do but laugh,” she said calling it a function of “groupthink,” when the desire to conform results in immoral behavior.

We can all do better than play bystander. As a part of the Penn community we have a collective responsibility to end these scenes. “It just takes one person to say something, and when I did, the whole room started reacting in favor of helping the girl,” the Wharton student said.

While we could castigate both the Syracuse student and this freshman for their irresponsible drunkenness, they shouldn’t be exploited as popular gossip or the evening’s entertainment. They can’t be faulted for what happens when they’re no longer conscious.

The reason we’re so concerned about the rise of this forwarding culture is because it perpetuates real rape culture. The story above is just one case of an endemic trend.

Cinema studies professor Meta Mazaj explained to us that when we come into contact with a forwarded image, we shed its original context and its subjectivity.

We have no empathy towards the image because we have dehumanized and objectified it. We’re increasingly removed from the people inside the pictures. We forget that they’re even real.

As this cyber disrespect becomes the norm, it becomes mirrored in real life as well.

What happened to having a little compassion, a dose of empathy and some self-restraint?

If we know that scandalous photographs can cause permanent damage — especially if the subject is a woman — why are we so nonchalant when it comes to disseminating them?

“Male gaze becomes embodied or institutionalized in the technology, in the forms of surveillance,” Mazaj noted. We’ve assumed a dominant male perspective when we look at and pass along pictures of objectified females.

With just a click of the send button, we make our anonymous contribution to the surge of information — participating, while simultaneously shirking any role in the charade.

And the ease of forwarding pales in comparison to the damage it does — technology has allowed for a lethal combination of speed and staying power.

When you forward a picture of a girl in a compromising moment, you’re furthering the notion of women as laughable, as stupid, as sexual objects. You’re not just hurting this random chick in the picture, you’re hurting the female gender.

Let’s not only be conscious of our own behavior but also of our responsibility to be decent human beings.

Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York, N.Y. and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at thinktwicecolumn@gmail.com or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every Wednesday.

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