Last week, the Twitter user Rosey Blair and her boyfriend, Houston Hardaway, made headlines for their viral live commentary on the supposed “meet-cute” between the two strangers sitting in front of them on a plane ride from New York to Dallas.
Neither the woman in front of them (whose name was later revealed to be Helen), nor her handsome seatmate, Euan Holden, a former pro soccer player turned model, were aware that throughout the four-hour flight their every move was being documented by the duo behind them.
Blair’s posts about Helen and Holden’s budding romance were packed with speculation and innuendo. It spread quickly across the internet, racking up hundreds of thousands of retweets and nearly a million likes. Before they knew it, journalists and Today show producers were calling and the entire thread had become a meme.
Some on the internet praised it as an adorable love story. But as more information came out, the saga began to seem disturbing. Secretly photographing people or live-tweeting their every word to exploit them for content (and, maybe, viral fame) is gross, but the depths to which Blair and Hardaway sank were particularly troublesome.
Even after Helen was forced to quit social media once trolls discovered her account and hurled sexist insults at her, Blair encouraged her followers to investigate and expose the woman’s real identity. Blair also continued to milk the controversy throughout the weekend, posting selfie video updates with information about the drama and attempting to capitalize on her viral success by promoting her acting career and asking for a job at BuzzFeed.
Blair and Hardaway are just the latest case of people projecting romantic narratives onto strangers for the sake of content.
In 2015, a woman gained internet fame for live-tweeting what she perceived to be an awful date. A year later, another Twitter user went viral for the same thing. Live-tweeting other people’s romantic interactions has become such a widespread phenomenon that even celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon. There are also a few twists on the genre. If you can’t find romance around you, live-tweeting breakups is also a surefire way to gain widespread notoriety.
By now, many have accepted that viral fame can strike at any moment and nearly everything in the world can—and likely will—be turned into content. Serendipitous recordings posted to social media have spawned viral stars like Alex Christopher LaBeouf (better known as #alexfromtarget), Mason Ramsey (the “Walmart yodeling boy”), and more.
But in the case of most viral romance threads, it’s usually the documentarian who gets famous, rarely the subjects. People who post this sort of live commentary seem not to consider the thoughts or feelings of those whose lives they’ve chosen to exploit. Luckily for Blair, Holden, now known as #PlaneBae, has relished the attention, but Helen, his female counterpart, has made it clear that she has no desire to be in the public eye.
Everyone loves a rom-com, though, especially one they can follow along live on Twitter. But real life isn’t like the movies, and while the public has an endless thirst for fairy-tale romances, the type of love-at-first-sight-sweep-you-off-your-feet romance perpetuated by most rom-coms is unrealistic, false, and destructive to forming healthy relationships. Real life romance and heartbreak can rarely be captured in 140 (or 280) characters.
The real-life people involved in these threads also never agreed to star in an epic love story. Projecting this myth onto unsuspecting couples, the way that Blair and Hardaway did, is cruel and unfair, especially because, even though they could overhear the conversation, as a third party they can’t fully understand what was actually occurring between Holden and Helen.
What sounds like romantic banter to an eavesdropper could be a nightmare for one or both of the people involved. Blair repeatedly implies in her thread that Helen is flirting with Holden, but was she? Who is to say this woman wasn’t simply politely entertaining the man next to her for fear of being rude? Or perhaps she has a partner at home. She should be allowed to casually flirt or make a new friend without people on the internet suggesting that she had sex with a stranger in a plane bathroom.
Dating is hard. It’s full of nuance and subtle interactions. What a person trying to make a romantic connection doesn’t need is this intimate, vulnerable moment turned into theater for millions online without their consent. For the sake of basic human decency: Please do not live-tweet dates, do not live-tweet flirting, do not live-tweet breakups, makeups, or meet-cutes. Let people live their messy lives in peace.