How quickly the tide of internet fame turns.
Last week Rosey Blair, an actor, writer and photographer, was on a flight from New York to Dallas, when she asked a woman to switch seats with her so that Blair and her boyfriend could sit next to each other. The woman obliged, and Blair joked about how the woman’s new seat partner could be the love of her life. When the woman did appear to hit it off with the man seated next to her (a hot former professional soccer player who’s identified himself as Euan Holden, a.k.a. as #PlaneBae), Blair began documenting their meet-cute on Instagram and Twitter.
The thread went viral, but many people have since criticized the thread as an invasion of privacy. So on Tuesday Blair tweeted an apology, saying “the last thing I want to do is to remove agency and autonomy from another woman.” She apologized for “utilizing what could have been a beautiful charming moment among strangers as a tool to communicate a narrative I am fond of.”
Blair also noted that she hasn’t profited off her viral fame, though she did receive a credit for the WiFi access she purchased to keep tweeting and Instgramming while on the flight.
During her thread, Blair scratched out the pair’s faces so that they weren’t identifiable, showing Blair and her boyfriend’s giddy faces instead. The incremental updates on how the conversation was progressing, whom was nudging closer to whom and how they left the plane continuing to chat became a viral thread that inspired ohh’s and ahh’s – and hundreds of thousands of retweets. In the following days, Holden went on the “Today” show and “Good Morning America” to talk about his meet-cute. Meanwhile, the woman he’d hit it off with – identified only as Helen – wished to remain out of the spotlight.
After a few days, the vicarious joy over this meet-cute soured. Blair appeared to be milking this voyeuristic thread for her own fame or fortune (she tweeted at BuzzFeed, asking for a job, and declared her interest in writing a screenplay). And Helen quit social media after trolls discovered her account and sent harassing messages.
Some who initially retweeted the thread, thinking it was sweet, changed their minds once they heard what Helen had endured, with writer Erynn Brook tweeting:
“I retweeted plane bae story when it was happening and I regret it now. It could’ve been a great story, now it’s just a sad one about another woman being harassed off the internet. Again.”
And from writer Rin Chupeco:
“So. That plane bae thread that went viral a few days ago?
“The guy was lauded and asked to go on interviews.
“The girl was harassed and had to leave social media. She was attacked for doing the same things the guy is praised for.
“Still think people treat men and women equally?”
Writing in the Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz articulated the dangers in broadcasting strangers’ interactions without their consent: “What sounds like romantic banter to an eavesdropper could be a nightmare for one or both of the people involved,” Lorenz writes. “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.”
Even in her apology, however, Blair doesn’t seem quite ready to let this story go. “Helen – to you, I offer my services,” Blair writes. “In whatever way you wish to continue this story – it’s now yours, as it should have been the entire time.”