Late last week, a Pennsylvania woman made the national news after the Facebook post in which she outed a cheating braggart and/or liar went viral. “If this is your husband, I have endured a 2 hour train ride from Philadelphia listening to this loser and his friends brag about their multiple affairs and how their wives are too stupid to catch on. Oh please repost … ” she wrote along side a cell phone photo of the man, which has been shared at least 183,000 times.
Her story has been compared to that of Silicon Valley dongle joke victim Adria Richards, as kind of a parable about social media. Twitter and Facebook are now used “to enforce behavior in public and semi-public spaces in a way it never was before,” Salon’s Anna North wrote. But just what behavior are we enforcing?
It’s not the infidelity that got the Facebook marriage vigilante so worked up. It’s the incivility of talking about it, loudly and at length, on a train, where everyone is trapped with one another for hours — a classic, but trivial, etiquette dilemma. “I just thought he was a pig,” she told Salon. “I was just so fed up with the two-hour train ride and listening to this person be so vulgar.”
Similarly — and even though an astonishing number of people were fired over donglegate — Richards explained that it wasn’t the content of the nerd-sexual jokes that was offensive. It was the sense that, by making them at a programming conference, the dudes sitting behind her were gleefully making their industry (even more) inhospitable toward women. I like to think that if there had been smart phones in 1996, I would have tweeted a photo of the guy one row in front of me at a Yankees game, whose “jokes” seared a new connotation of the verbs “to spit” and “to swallow” on my elementary school brain.
In short, if you must cheat on your wife, make puerile jokes about it, and generally act boorish, leave it in your basement rec room and Facebook chat. Not just because you’ll get caught. If you feel the need to colonize your entire environment with it, you deserve to get caught. And if you don’t trust yourself not to, there’s always the Quiet Car.