Yesterday I saw a video going around of a “Karen who attacks lady then plays the victim”. It appeared to show some kind of altercation at a store, followed by a woman collapsing on the floor and crying and begging and pleading the person recording to turn off their camera.

The idea of the video and general sentiment in response was basically, “This annoying, meddling person does something bad and then pretends like she’s the one suffering. How pathetic. She got what she deserved being exposed like this on camera.”

I have no idea what actually happened or whether and to what extent various parties deserve blame. It’s none of my business and I don’t really care to know. But I did find it a little troubling that there seemed to be universal glib dismissal of any potential suffering experienced by this woman being filmed for several minutes for the world to see, whether or not she had it coming.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Thank god social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager”? It’s a funny but true statement about lack of privacy and lack of grace that comes with it. People are stupid sometimes. People are weak sometimes. People are dicks sometimes. People lose it sometimes. Is it a good thing for those people to have every single one of these instances streamed in real-time with the potential to go viral and ruin their entire life forever? Would you want the dumbest or rudest thing you’ve ever done to be trending on Tik Tok or Twitter?

The mere possibility that every salty interaction with a waiter could be being filmed by a fellow diner is a kind of psychological torture, or at least stress enhancer, running in the background at all times.

The idea that people with a monopoly on violence and no accountability – police – should be surveilled while on the clock is a very good one. Sure, it probably adds some stress to their job, but it’s well worth it considering the high stakes and track record of cops with power operating in secret. But what about a grandma at the grocery store on a bad day? Or a dog owner who accidentally runs into a cyclist while not paying attention? Is it a good thing for people in every social setting to have the looming fear of being surveilled and having that footage go global in an instant before they even have a chance to apologize, explain, or make things right?

It feels like a callous and cruel way for humans to live and interact with one-another. The stakes are too high. People lose their ability to be human and show compassion.

I noticed in the video as this woman was moaning and sobbing on the floor begging for mercy many people stood around her at a safe distance. Even people who arrived late and never witness her alleged instigation and knew nothing except that a woman was sobbing on the floor simply stared and did nothing. Not one person got down on their knee, or put their arm around her and tried to calm or comfort her. Maybe she’s a big baby. Maybe she’s been conditioned to be a victim. Maybe she’s been made helpless and taught to demand safe spaces. Who cares? She’s still a human suffering. Yet no one wanted to hazard the attempt to help her out.

I suspect the fact that cameras were rolling had a major chilling effect on any such human responses. When the camera is on, you have to think twice. You can’t just follow your human instinct. You have to step back and try to figure out who will be perceived as the “bad guy” when this video is posted and shared. Do you want to risk being seen as aiding them? What if something goes wrong when you approach? What if you end up doing something that makes you look bad?

So instead of engaging or helping, everyone becomes a spectator or documenter. Whipping out their own cameras so a circle of mutual surveillance crisscrosses this poor woman as she moans and ruins her reputation further with every second that gets recorded.

Privacy matters. Knowing you’re dealing with a real human being in front of you and not also their fans and followers online matters. Room for error and grace matter. Not being made into a spectacle matters.

If we’re always being documented by each other, we’re subjects and slaves to each other. We could use some humanity.