The date was October 14, 2003. The Chicago Cubs we finally having a decent season, keeping a good record all the way until game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Many Chicagoan were beyond excited for the remaining games of the series, the whole city had a euphoric atmosphere. People would gather at the local sports bars and hug strangers when their cubbies scored. So far, game 6 had been going fantastic for the Cubs, they were up 3-0 in the eighth, only five outs away from breaking a 58-year world series absence streak. That is, until Steve Bartman tipped a foul ball away from left fielder’s Moises Alou’s glove.
The very moment Bartman’s hand touched the ball, his life would be changed forever. The New York Times reported that “by the end of the night, he was the most infamous fan, perhaps, in the history of American sports” (Strauss). After the game, he was escorted out by security, for his own safety. In the streets, people pointed and threw objects at him, chanting “asshole”.
But that was only the aggressive fans. Others interviewed later stated that “Batman was a small part of that fateful eighth inning… He didn’t cost us anything” (Strauss). The city was split down the middle, you either felt bad for Bartman, or wanted him banned from Wrigley Field. Those who empathized with Bartman felt that this was merely an overreaction to something that didn’t change much, he was just a scapegoat for all the unfortunate luck that the Cubs had endured for too long. He was welcomed with open arms to many, as most just wanted to end the
Although similar, the difference between Steve Bartman’s and Justine Sacco’s experience is the time period. In 2003, Twitter, Facebook, or even Instagram was widely used if it even existed. This dictated a drastic change in Bartman’s experience, as it was much easier for him to hide from the hate and threats. Justine Sacco, however, couldn’t hide from anyone. The readily available characteristics of social media in recent years left her nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. Bartman, on the other hand, disappeared like a ghost.
Wired Magazine reports on the effect of social media and public shaming or even threatening. Laura Hudson writes, “social media has given a voice to the disenfranchised at its worst, it’s a weapon of mass reputation destruction”. Even seemingly small accounts with few followers or friends can have a large impact. It’s the network aspect of social media that allows word to travel like the plague, easily destroying someone’s reputation overnight. This ability cripples society’s ability to empathize, as it simply kills off any reason to empathize with the victim.
Many were able to empathize with Steve Bartman. How? The answer is quite simple: social media wasn’t popular enough back in 2003. Had this happened within recent years, he would have been torn apart by Cubs extremists. This is the effect that social media has upon empathy. No one wants to join the victims side, as they will also get attacked. Especially, the views of everybody else will shine no positive light on the victim, so why empathize with someone who seems like the worst person? Social media can change someone’s reputation so much that it makes them impossible to empathize with.
Strauss, Ben. “Steve Bartman Remains Invisible, 10 Years Later.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
Hudson, Laura. “Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 24 July 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.