The Worst Part of the “Diane in 7A” Hoax Wasn’t the Deception

I am one of those terribly smug people who always suspected that last week’s Diane in 7A thing was fake. I should say I am usually credulous about these things. I was totally taken in by that Jimmy Kimmel twerking video, for example. But the level of detail in this guy’s tweets — I’m not using his name, let’s all forget it immediately — was a red flag in itself. I didn’t believe that 7A was an aisle seat, and I also didn’t believe anyone would answer notes passed to them on a plane by a stranger. Particularly not, I thought, hostile ones from strange men. In “Diane’s” place I would have ignored him, mostly out of reflex. My default, even after a lifetime of being known as a mouthy woman, is never to escalate.

Now that we know she’s a hoax, a lot of people are defending what you could call the literary truth of the situation. I do think that the viral spread of this banal little tale of airport obnoxiousness is best explained that way. People hate airports — and public transportation and, you know, politics — because they force you into contact with other people. And some “other people” are terrible assholes, and you wish they’d stop picking fights in crowded places where you simply cannot tune them out. Since many people were feeling this kind of annoyance as they flew over the past weekend, they could not help to respond to the “truth” of this little revenge fantasy parable.

The only “truth” here, though, is that this guy is the giant asshole in the frame. I can’t say that I cared particularly that he pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. Even if his story were true, I can’t say that I even mind that he live-tweeted people’s “private” conversations, as Nisha Chittal complained at Medium. What bugs me about him is that he took a well-documented phenomenon — the Internet’s enormous well of anger — and wielded it in such an enormously self-aggrandizing way. There’s a lot of ink spilled on the matter of “outrage” on the Internet, people complaining they’re tired of “callouts” and “mob behavior.” I’m actually kind of certain that this guy would complain about it were it wielded against him. But when he has some kind of epiphany about etiquette, off he goes to gather up every angry commenter on the Internet in his war for civility or… something.

What makes these little viral etiquette stunts so infuriating is how uninformed they are about the actual civility problems out there. It’s been pointed out countless times that the brunt of the Internet’s tendency to pop off on precious little evidence isn’t felt by guys like this one. I don’t know that this guy consciously chose to make his fictional target a woman because he dislikes women. In fact, I very much doubt he thought he was making any statement about gender relations whatsoever. It would just be funnier, I imagine was his thought process, if the target of my ire were wearing “mom jeans.” But whatever he meant, the result was that a bunch of people — many of whom may never read about how this was all such a hilarious joke, after all — have now been brought to nod their heads and say, “Oh god, those people in mom jeans, I hate them too.” And the cycle will pound on.