Two young passengers on Taiwan's Kaohsiung Metro recently got themselves into trouble for engaging in oral sex on the train.
The action of the Internet pals – he a college sophomore and she a high-school senior – was filmed and posted on Facebook by a Hong Kong tourist.
The video quickly went viral and was shared by tens of thousands on the Internet within 24 hours. The next day it was the front-page story in a local daily and soon after that the pair reported to the police. They are now facing possible legal actions.
The rapid development of the pair’s wrong decision into a major news story in Taiwan highlights again the new reality of a world where cameras are ubiquitous and information spreads like wildfire through social media.
On April 13, an Internet user nicknamed Eason A1 posted on his Facebook page petitioning for “likes”. Eason A1 claimed that he needed to collect 500,000 likes in order to earn the blessing of his girlfriend’s father for their marriage. On his Facebook page, he posted a screen grab of his dialogue with his possible father-in-law via the instant-messaging app Line.
His plea was soon shared through Facebook and re-posted on the popular forum PTT. He achieved the seemingly impossible task in less than a day. The success also made Eason A1 an instant celebrity, and soon his father-in-law to-be felt the need to change his assignment to “lay low”.
Similar harvesting of “likes” has become en vogue recently. People pledge themselves to all kinds of outlandish quests when “likes” hit a certain mark on their Facebook page.
Some pundits attribute this phenomenon to people’s wish to create their own “15 minutes of fame”, while some see it as the pledgers’ lack of independence. One trend missed by commentators, however, is the exponential decline of media cost in the Internet era and the subsequent transfusion of star power from politicians and celebrities to the masses.
As the two Kaohsiung MRT passengers learned, the famous and the powerful are no longer the only ones that are watched in public. The proliferation of smart-phones, surveillance cameras and car-mounted safety cameras means that everyone living in a developed nation can be a potential journalist/paparazzo as well as a potential target.
A minute in the spotlight
Like celebrities, people in the social media age see the boundary between their private and public lives blurred. As long as people’s actions exhibit enough skilfulness or humour, cause enough outrage or sympathy – in other words, when they are newsworthy enough – they should expect the fair possibility of their actions being documented.
On the other hand, bloggers and social media users also recognise (at least subconsciously) the star power the Internet has given them.
A comedian once gave an insightful explanation why a lot of people would photo-document their social media page with every meal they have and share it with the world. When one is documenting everyday life for oneself, he said, one is writing a diary, but when one is documenting for the benefit of others, one is writing an autobiography.
The “like” harvesters reveal not the desire to be famous but the realisation that to a degree they already are.
These “Facebook wish-makings” are mobilisation calls not unlike those initiated by politicians and celebrities.
Just as the explosion of smart-phone apps started with silly ones like fart sound makers and the Facebook age with simple applications like social farming games, every advancement in the Internet begins with something trivial and farcical. That does not mean it won’t develop into a world-changing revolution.
People should watch out for the implications of such a revolution – its potential benefits and harms – and help shape the course of its development to one that brings good to the world.