Why do they post bad behavior?

A fight at an after-wedding party is the latest instance of local out-of-bounds behavior broadcast to the world via social media.
A fight at an after-wedding party is the latest instance of local out-of-bounds behavior broadcast to the world via social media.

Four local episodes that went viral illustrate the phenomenon.

Posted: October 11, 2012

It isn't real until it's posted.

For many people today, that's the truth. Maybe you've done something noteworthy - or seen someone do something - but until a video record of it finds its way to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, tumblr, or another social medium, it's as if it never happened.

People even record themselves, or someone else, doing something bad, then post the video. Not to alert police, mind you, just to post it, for all the added value that brings.

In the last two weeks, Philadelphia has gained national notoriety for viral videos showing people behaving badly:

Sept. 25: A group of young women approach a woman sitting on her steps in Chester. To a soundtrack of giggles and shouts, they slap her, chase her indoors, and continue the beat-down. She appears to be mentally challenged. They run from the house - and post the video on Facebook. A parent brings the video to the attention of police, who soon make four arrests.

Sept. 29: Three teenagers attack a man in the frozen food aisle of the Franklin Mills Pathmark. A store surveillance video eventually leads police to make three arrests. But one of the alleged perpetrators takes a cellphone video (again, backed by laughs and trash-talk) and posts it - on Facebook.

Sept. 30: During the Puerto Rican Day Parade, a video records what appears to be a police officer striking a woman in the apparent, and mistaken, belief she has thrown a liquid at him. Posted on YouTube, the vid gets more than 1 million views within four days. The officer has been placed on leave with intent to dismiss.

About 2 a.m. Sunday: A fight erupts at a post-wedding party at the Sheraton Society Hill. A hotel guest, 15-year-old Max Schultz of Camp Hill, roused from sleep, takes a video of the brawl, which includes several police and a narration by Schultz: "Did they just deck the bride? . . . They just decked the bride." He posts it on Facebook. One man has been charged, and police say they expect more charges.

Why would someone do such a thing? Why post videos of the crimes of others - much less post videos of your own bad deeds?

Easy. It isn't real until it's posted.

There's an authenticating energy to social-media posts. Many other people see them - especially if they go viral, as the above videos all did - and they are a way of saying, "I was there." There's built-in fun and excitement in posting what you see and do, in effect laying your life out before a huge audience.

"Videos can establish that 'I was involved in this event,' " says Kathleen A. Bogle, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. "Whether it's these crime videos, or sexting, or even the photos of Kate Middleton topless, there's a sense there's no limits, that you can post anything, that whatever it is, you want to be first to post it."

It's one thing to record a crime to aid police, she says, "and another just to post them on Facebook, so others can see."

People take vids to make everything "real." Bogle says, "At concerts, it can be hilarious. People aren't there to 'be all there,' to enjoy the music, to dance. They're there to hold their arms straight up, with a cellphone, make a video, and post it." She recounts a recent episode at a bar in Avalon: "A woman had lost consciousness, was unresponsive, and I was amazed to see so many bystanders, instead of going to her aid, or calling for help, take out the phones and record the event."

Ron Schouten, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says, "Social-media postings involve attention. They're a way to pass around information. They can be a blow against social norms. They can also be 'perception management' - framing the way you want people to see you."

But why document your own malfeasance? Isn't that kind of dumb?

Maybe - but it's been an established practice for years. Summer 2011, the summer of the "flash rob," was a high point for self-made crime videos, as in London during the riots there, and in Philadelphia, where young people organized group raids of small businesses, shoplifting and vandalizing - then posting a video.

"Those who post these videos aren't thinking about consequences," says Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology at De Sales University in Bethlehem. "In their own little social worlds, what they know about right and wrong fades before the rules and values of their group. They're thinking, 'I'm showing this to particular people who I believe will honor what I've done.' Approbation and respect from within the group has more cachet for them than outside values."

All the experts agree that people, especially kids, like the excitement and humor involved in posting the incongruous or transgressive.

"Sure, there's narcissism involved, and also the Herostratus Syndrome,' " Schouten says. Herostratus? He was the guy who in 356 B.C. burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus - one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Why?

"Because," says Schouten, "he wanted to be known for something."

Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane.

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