On Tuesday, two young, attractive strangers met on a plane and seemed to hit it of in conversation.
This isn’t an especially remarkable occurrence. But thanks to another passenger, who decided to document their interactions on social media — including sneaky photos — these strangers have become viral sensations, as social media users became convinced that they got to see the beginnings of a whirlwind romance by proxy.
From another point of view, though, this meet-cute wasn’t actually all that cute. And it raises worrying questions for what privacy really means in the era of social media and ubiqituous connectivity.
“The thread is a gross invasion of privacy,” said Taylor Lorenz, an internet culture reporter for The Atlantic, in an interview with Business Insider. “We don’t really know much about these people, and its delusional to project this weird, made-up romance onto them.”
Just to catch you up, here’s the so-called #PlaneBae saga in a nutshell.
In the series of Instagram stories and tweets posted early Tuesday morning, Texan actress Rosey Blair recorded what many believed to be the formation of a budding romance. Blair took to her Twitter account to explain that by switching seats with another passenger, she might have accidentally made a love connection between two strangers.
You can read that thread here:
Over the course of the flight, the couple apparently got to know one another, exchanged contact info, and occasionally touched arms — all while Blair live-tweeted their every move and thousands eagerly awaited updates. When the plane landed, Blair got a final shot — taking care not to capture the pair’s faces — that looked like a happy ending.
Within 48 hours, the story was being covered on cable news all over the country. Alaska Airlines and T-Mobile CEO John Legere both joined in, offering free flights for the subjects of the Twitter thread, and in-flight WiFi for Blair herself, respectively.
Blair gained more than 60,000 Twitter followers. The #PlaneBae himself, former pro soccer player Euan Holden, fully embraced his newfound celebrity by engaging with his newfound social media following, and even appearing on the Today Show.
And while most coverage and comments were celebrating #PlaneBae and Blair this week, the woman involved in the saga has quietly gone dark by deleting both her Twitter account and Instagram, and declining to appear on TV. Business Insider has not published her name to respect her apparent desire for privacy.
Riley, Holden, and the woman from the plane did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The aftermath of this saga raises some troubling questions, whether or not you followed the #PlaneBae saga as it unfolded.
Most of those issues boil down to a simple question: Was this thread cute? Or was it an invasion of the couple’s privacy?
Taylor Lorenz, an internet culture reporter for the Atlantic, believes it’s the latter.
“That’s one of the biggest problems with social media: It allows you to exploit the world and people around you to get attention for your own benefit,” Lorenz told Business Insider. “Everyone is just using each other for content. It encourages you to look at the world that way.”
And she’s not alone in feeling that way. Critics on Twitter and elsewhere said that Riley had no right to post a minute-by-minute accounting of a conversation between strangers without permission.
There are no easy answers here. Holden, the soccer player, seems to be enjoying his sudden fame, just as plenty of social media users enjoyed watching the story unfold with live updates. However, the fact that his conversational partner deleted her social media presence in the aftermath suggests that she was less comfortable.
At the same time, this kind of thing is only going to become more and more common: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, even live broadcast tools like Amazon’s Twitch and YouTube make the lines between reality and social media blurrier. Should everyone expect to be recorded and documented, all of the time? It’s a question that’s increasingly relevant.
Ultimately, Lorenz says that it’s up to people to use these technological tools responsibily.
“People want to believe in this delusional romantic fantasy, where people meet on planes and fall in love and go on vacations together for ever and ever, and that’s just not reality. People who perpetuate this content should think twice about it, because it’s not real. It’s two people on a plane just minding their own business,” said Lorenz.