I know August is supposed to be a slow month for news, but here’s the best article I’ve read in ages, about a photographer in Pennsylvania who discovered some cyberbullying on Facebook. When Jennifer McKendrick (aka Jen McKen) realized that four of the bullies were local girls who had booked appointments with her for their senior portraits, she knew she had to take a stand. Jen emailed them to cancel their upcoming portrait sessions, then emailed their parents to say why.
This woman is my new hero.
On her Facebook page and blog, she wrote about discovering the girls’ page, which was devoted entirely to hateful and offensive comments regarding their classmates. Jen wrote: “I saw it with my own eyes..it wasn’t hearsay, it was right there..with their smiling face right beside such an ugly statement”, and elaborated later that the comments weren’t superficial ones about hair or clothing, but biting, vicious ones about sexuality.
Based on what she read on the page, Jen wrote on her blog: “I do not want them to represent my business and I am beside myself at how MEAN and CRUEL they were on that page.”
Jen not only cancelled their appointments and returned their deposits, but told them and their parents why. She also attached screen shots of the Facebook page as proof of the bullying statements. (Other readers also reported the page to Facebook, by the way, based on the hateful content).
Jen received reply emails from two parents, who apologized, said they were shocked and promised to deal with the matter.
I went to Jen’s Facebook page and was surprised that the traffic hasn’t shut the site down! The comments are easily 99-to-1 in favor of Jen. Most glow with praise; some promise to send business her way in support of her courage to do the right thing; many wish they could patronize her Pennsylvania business but live too far away. Many also note how difficult it is (in this, or any economy) to do the right thing when it involves turning away paying customers.
The two (only two) dissenters I could find seemed to be teenagers who are not very well versed in how Facebook actually operates. One called Jen “mean” for canceling the photo sessions, and supported another who called Jen “stalkerish” for “snooping on” the Facebook page in the first place. And yet, this is the point of Facebook: to connect via public comments. Everyone knows that what you put on Facebook, stays on Facebook. By that, I mean that if you write it, it’s out there. People find it and read it.
An unexpected voice against Jen, however, is Anne Rice, the vampire novelist. Her opinion, which anyone can read publicly on Facebook (sorry, I “snooped” and found it on her page): “I don’t support this kind of discrimination, any more than I support the bridal shop owner who wouldn’t sell a dress to a lesbian.”
I appreciate your stand on gay rights, Anne, but I can’t side with you about the bullying. What Jen did is not discrimination based on an immutable characteristic such as age, race, creed, gender, sexuality, etc–which are regularly protected from discriminatory behavior. It certainly is discrimination to refuse service to someone based on these characteristics. But to refuse service to someone based on how they choose to act, especially when that choice harms others–it happens all the time and is a necessary consequence for bad behavior. Bouncers and anyone in the restaurant business know that service is regularly denied to those who are disorderly, drunk, or just not wearing shoes and a shirt. Celebrities are dropped from advertising campaigns due to their bad behavior (I still think of the then-charming Kobe Bryant’s Euro-flavored endorsement of Nutella–before he was dropped as a spokesman after his arrest for sexual assault in 2003). Why would Nutella want Kobe’s smiling face to represent them in America’s grocery stores? And why would Jen McKendrick want her product (her brand, her photographs) to be represented by the smiling faces of cyberbullies and bigots?
So we’ve come full circle to the idea of this as a business decision. I support it on that level, but I also believe in the old-fashioned idea of calling people out on their bad behavior.
Rallying cry of the day: “If you are ugly on the inside, I’m sorry but I won’t take your photos to make you look pretty on the outside!”