Ignore fools trying to go viral with viruses

On a flight from Toronto, a man caused a panic when he announced on a plane that he might have the novel Coronavirus, declaring that he had travelled from Wuhan and didn’t feel well. None of that was true, but it still meant that the plane had to turn around and land, rather than continue on to its destination in Jamaica. People in Jamaica were also delayed as the airline had plans for this plane once it got to the next airport.

The man was attempting to make a viral video out of a prank. Describing himself as an artist, he wanted to use the ‘joke’ as a way to get views and eyes on his channel. Because of this, I am not going to name him in this column. Every time someone says his name he gets a little bit of publicity, and frankly he should be denied that.

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In fact, he makes me realize that people like him are going to require a unique form of punishment for their crimes. While officially charged with mischief and breach of recognizance, the nature of his crime makes me realize that we don’t quite have the right punishment for people like him. This is an attempt to commit a crime for personal gain, but that gain isn’t in money, but attention. This person wants to be famous on the internet, and leverage that to get more views on their social media accounts. That means what we need is a unique kind of fine, one that doesn’t deny money, but attention.

The problem with this is that it opens up an entirely different can of worms, especially since any actual law surrounding this would inevitably run into freedom of speech issues. But, as this is filmed mischief, there would have to be a way to deny them attention.

It is nice to think that we could make a new crime to solve this new problem. The idea would be that if someone is convicted of filmed mischief for the purposes of viral fame, they would have to, for example, delete all social media accounts and paint over the camera of their phone with bright green nail polish. Maybe they could create new social media accounts after a full year on the first offense, a longer period after each subsequent conviction.

Naturally, conviction criteria would be strict. The crime would have to have been filmed with the intent of posting it to social media, and members of the public would have had to be in danger due to the stunt. These rules apply to this stunt. While strict, they would be easy to convict, because the videos in question are, inevitably, posted to the internet. The evidence is right there. In all cases, the social media requirements would be in addition to the regular punishment for their crime.

It would probably become a pretty rare conviction, as people would quickly realize putting people in danger would harm the ‘brand’ they’re trying to build.

It’s a fun thought experiment, but I recognize how impossible it would be to actually write this into law. However, we can still act as though they have violated our personal codes of conduct, and act accordingly. If you hear of someone doing something nearly as stupid as the man on the plane, you can enforce this ruling on an individual level. In fact, I’m doing it right now by not using his name. If you deny them the attention, the viral moment, the notoriety, you’re enforcing the sentence they deserve. They believe all publicity is good publicity, and the only way to prove them wrong is to not pay attention to them at all.

It’s not the right course of action to give them anger or hate, that’s another part of what they crave. If you give them nothing, that’s what hits them the hardest. Use the power of our collective ability to ignore.

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