I don't mean to burst Cupid's little bubble of love now, but I will. And I apologize in advance for being the party pooper of admiration in the midst of a revolution. But we seriously need to talk about the now-deleted Instagram page "Revolution Crushes" and similar pages that have emerged since the start of Lebanon's revolution.
The idea behind these pages may have seemed cute at a first glance, but the reality is they explicitly encourage people to turn into Level A stalkers under the guise of love and revolutionary meet-ups in Riad El Solh. The popularity of the now-deleted Instagram page "Revolution/Thawra Crushes" struck me as quite odd. It blatantly encourages stalking, yet thousands of people followed the page as if there was nothing wrong with its concept. In an imaginary world, it could've passed along as charming - after all, its founder created it to break sectarian divides - had it not violated the privacy of individuals.
Imagine this. Someone snaps a photo of you from afar as you're waving the Lebanese flag at Martyrs' Square, sends it to the founder of this Instagram page with a short message, then the curator uploads it onto the public account for anyone and everyone to see. Suddenly, you start getting notifications of people tagging you in some random post online with your face visible to the world.
Would you personally be OK with it? Would you be flattered to know someone was analyzing you while you were *too busy* revolting and screaming at the top of your lungs? I'm sure the founders of these pages didn't intend to encourage stalking, but the messages and photos revealed on the page prove otherwise. These stalkers just needed a platform that normalized their fixations. Thawra Crushes gave them that.
In reality, the posts are flat-out harassment with a side of creepiness served on a platter called "invasion of privacy." Though the most popular of those pages has been taken down (for whatever reasons), it is important to recognize why creating, supporting, and taking part in such an idea is controversial to begin with.
That brings me to my first point.
A violation of people's privacy
"The citizen's place of residence is inviolable. No one may enter it except in the circumstances and manners prescribed by law," the article states.
Just because it is not banned by law doesn't make it right, especially when the country at hand is one that lacks laws that explicitly govern cyberspace. Instead, such a space relies on laws created to regulate television, radios and newspapers, and media that are either highly partisan, high in debt, or no longer in existence. So the fact that an age-old law occupies the interwebs really doesn't make it a valid source for right/wrong judgment.
In the absence of a decent law, it is expected to see breaches of privacy and unethical distribution of other violations online. We've all (at some point in time) received a WhatsApp video of an incident that shouldn't have been recorded in the first place and shouldn't have been circulated in the second.
Though the posts on Thawra Crushes weren't exactly immoral per se, they did violate people's privacy. Who gave the "photographer" the right to take a photo of a random person without their consent? Well, there is no law that explicitly criminalizes it, so can you really blame them? In a sense, yes we can because sharing a photo of someone you observed in a public space or writing up a description of that person just to figure out who they are is just unethical. It is also no different than stalking.
That brings me to my second point.
An encouragement of Grade A stalking
Such pages encourage stalking and normalize such actions under the pretext of lust, love, adoration, what have you. In reality, it's plain old stalking even if no one wants to label it as such. Stalking doesn't necessarily involve breaking into someone's apartment at 2 a.m. in the morning to steal that person's hairbrush. Stalking certainly doesn't have to be violent, especially in the age of the internet.
Many celebrities have been stalked by individuals who, in addition to their violent acts, sent out random creepy messages to the stars via social media. What makes the acts of these people sending messages and photos to these Instagram pages any less creepy?
There have been several claims that social media has fostered a big rise in real-world stalking. The emergence of such Instagram pages during Lebanon's revolution are a case in point.
Not only has social media encouraged stalking, but it has also enabled stalking to take place without repercussions. Online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook reinforce the idea that it's OK to incessantly look over a stranger's feed without them ever finding out.
Thawra Crushes and its duplicate pages have given people a platform under which their stalking skills are treated as a regular (even adorable) hunt for everlasting love. There is nothing cute about capturing a photo of a stranger and uploading it online. It doesn't make you less of a stalker if the photo was taken via an iPhone rather than a Polaroid camera as "real" stalkers do.
"Stalking is defined as a fixation on others" and "if we put too much energy into other people online we are at risk of developing very difficult behaviors," as Dr. Emma Short, an expert in Cyber Stalking and Harassment, once said.
That brings me to my third point.
These pages endorse harassment
Many of the posts shared on these pages controversially relay messages about beauty and its importance in leaving a good first impression. Amid a revolution, who has time to even think about appearances and even less so to analyze others' looks? Well, it seems like people in Lebanon have a whole lot of time on their hands even while being patriotic.
But many of these photos harass the individuals in them as do many of the comments left on these photos. One such example is the photo above. We've covered the woman's face to make a point. Upon sharing the photo of the woman, an individual wrote: "how dare these politicians make this woman upset." This remark suggests that the woman deserves to be happy ... only because she is pretty, not because all humans deserve to be happy. In addition to that, one comment left on the photo puts the spotlight on the woman's body, namely her breasts.
Yes, the woman went out without a bra and why is that a big deal? Did we not learn anything from the #FreeTheNipple movement? It's been seven years since Lina Esco first introduced it with an aim to decriminalize and de-stigmatize female nudity in public. The campaign may have initially focused on toplessness, but it has come to encompass going braless under clothes.
In a way, the movement also aims to desexualize women's bodies in the public sphere. The photo shared on Thawra Crushes goes against everything the #FreeTheNipple movement has been advocating for for the past few years.
Do you think this woman wanted to become the topic of discussion online? Did she anticipate that someone would snap a photo of her and share it on Instagram? No, she probably did not think someone was watching her closely when she decided to go out in her most comfortable clothes.
By taking the photo, sharing the photo, and discussing the photo, it becomes a case of harassment. By definition, the latter is "unwanted behavior which you find offensive or which makes you feel intimidated or humiliated."
It is offensive to share a photo of someone you saw in public online. It is intimidating when the comments and analysis of your appearance are uncalled for. It is humiliating to be perceived as eye candy.
These are some of the reasons why such Instagram pages are just not cute. It's time people view things from a critical eye rather than fall head-over-heels over a page that encourages all kinds of unwanted behavior.