Crudeness at Arlington Cemetery: Facebook and the Finger
Want to set the social and news media on fire with your own special brand of misadventure?
Just have a friend take a picture of you at Arlington National Cemetery, next to the Tomb of the Unknowns, by a sign that says, “Silence and Respect,” as you pretend to shout while extending your middle finger toward the sign. And post the picture on Facebook. That should do it. It certainly did for Lindsey Stone, a Massachusetts woman, who, along with a colleague who took the picture, has found celebrity she probably never imagined.
In an almost textbook example of unintended social media consequences, one moment of questionable judgment last October landed the two women—at the time employed by LIFE, a Cape Cod health care nonprofit—neck-deep in everything from accusations of disloyalty to epithets too vile to reprint here.
According to Gawker, the first appearance of the photo on Ms. Stone’s Facebook page a month ago elicited relatively few comments—mostly negative—and might have simply drifted away in the electronic ether had it not been for a counterattack on Facebook by a group calling itself Fire Lindsey Stone. After that, it was Katie-bar-the-door.
Stone, under fire from many quarters for her First Amendment-protected expression, told the Boston Herald that she “never meant any disrespect” for service members and had only intended her gesture as a ‘visual pun’ in response to the sign, “not the location or the people represented there.” Speaking for herself and her friend, Stone said, “We realize that it was an ignorant and distasteful thing for us to do, but we truly meant no harm.”
Writing in Business Insider, and covered by ABC News, Robert Johnson, a retired Army non-commissioned officer, was among voices defending Stone’s Arlington moment: “If Lindsey Stone wants to rip on the Tomb of the Unknowns, me, my service, or the hundreds of mutilated troops I served with at Walter Reed Medical Center, she should be able to do so without fear of retribution. Freedom like that is what we fought for, and respecting other opinions is part of what the military tried to teach all of us who served.”
In the end, as reported in the Boston Globe earlier this week, both women were dismissed from their jobs.
Perhaps Forrest Gump said it best: “Stupid is as stupid does.” In an era when covering stupidity is at the top of most media to-do lists, spur of the moment silliness—or thoughtlessness—is certain to live on in personal infamy.
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