Brooke Houts and The Internet’s Merciless Gavel.

How we navigate public image, forgiveness, and our own misdeeds in the Age of Social Media.

Another angel has fallen from the Social Media Heavens down into the depths of public shame and vehement condemnation.

If you haven’t heard yet, Brooke Houts, a prominent Youtuber, uploaded a video that included footage of animal abuse. I won’t share the video here as I had to turn my head away from the cruelty displayed but it is available elsewhere. Incendiary comments fill all of her most recent videos calling for her to lose custody of her dog, eternal damnation, and sarcastic remarks making fun of the hatred she has garnered for her actions.

Houts and her dog, Sphinx.

Content creators and celebrities alike have faced scrutiny for their actions to a degree that has not been seen previously in human history. The Internet has allowed anonymous masses to become one judge that calls on each individual to formulate opinions on what goes on in the world today. While debacles such as Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest video and Houts’ own lapse in human decency have shown us how quickly justice can be brought to those guilty of gross misconduct, they have also shown us how ruthless people can be over the Internet and the darker underbelly of seemingly infallible celebrities and public figures.

Social media rests in a curious spot in 2019. Myspace, one of the first viral websites in 2003, Facebook dominating the industry in the midst of the late 2000s, and Instagram’s widespread use by the rich, famous, and powerful showcase the quick, global integration of these websites into our personal lives. We all hold devices in our pockets now that give us levels of information that would have seemed magical and arcane a hundred years ago. While it has allowed us to become well connected, it has also raised the significance of what we put on the Internet and our actions outside of it.

Brooke Houts’ case is perfect for analysis. A 20-year-old, high profile Youtuber whose rise since 2014 has seemingly been all but evaporated by her wrongdoing.

What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet and the Internet has an exceptionally strong memory. The importance of public image has skyrocketed in the last decade with average people and famous people alike working tirelessly to perfect what the world sees. Figures taken from Statista.com show that from 2012 to 2018, social media use has jumped from 90 minutes a day to 136, a jump that moves usage to a little over 2 hours a day. With this rise in consumption, people are working harder than ever to make their larger-than-life online identities seem as genuine as possible. With this focus on social media also comes the maintenance of it, and many times the facades we build become too perfect for us to sustain. Oddly enough, the anonymity of these identities also allows for levels of scrutiny and retribution that would not be normally seen in our public lives. It only takes a few seconds in Houts’ comment section to see this.

Comments. (Identities hidden)

In Lord of the Flies-esque fashion, the masks we develop allow us to project ideas into the world from the safety of our phones and laptops. These masks also hide the reality of our lives that we do not see in between posts, pictures, and videos.

In polling a random selection of college-aged students, I found that while the general consensus is that she deserves her judgment from the masses, opinions were split on how and when forgiveness should be given for her wrongdoing. What is inexcusable to some may be forgiven under their actions following the event as well as the actions they take to show they have learned from their wrongdoing. Inquiries of Houts’ conduct and character behind her online persona created varied responses in those who I talked to.

Josh, a student at James Madison University said -

“In the video, she was seen abusing an animal in her care multiple times and I’m sure many times off camera as well. Her conduct shouldn’t be tolerated and I think her public shaming is reasonable because treating your own animal in such a way shows a lack of moral character.”

Tyler, another student at James Madison University said -

“I think it’s all on a case to case basis… Could she learn and grow and be a better person? Sure. Once she serves her punishment only time will tell.”

Trust is an intangible feeling that takes an incredibly long time to build. In one lapse of morality or a mistake, all of the trust that has been accumulated can be instantly dissipated within seconds. The dissonance caused by Houts’ seemingly loving, cheerful on-screen persona and the cruelty she displayed within her unedited video has caused a disintegration of trust within her audience and immediate revulsion from those unfamiliar with her videos. It then becomes difficult to know which parts of Houts’ character are real and which are fabricated.

Houts’ apology letter as seen on her Twitter account.

Houts’ apology has come off to many as superficial. Instead of taking full responsibility for her actions and the gravity of the situation with tact, she instead deflects responsibility to external causes such as the dog itself and the high cost of training an animal.

Alexia, a student at Radford University had this to say about Houts’ situation -

“One mistake doesn’t determine innate goodness and innate badness… But depending on how big the mistake is, consequences may be necessary due to lack of inhibition and accountability… You can’t estimate how long or little it would take to justify their sentence.”

The Internet has become the undisputable keeper of accountability in the world today. Politicians, Actors, Businesspeople, Comedians, and average citizens alike have all been kept in check by the Internet’s watchful eye. In the wake of Bill Cosby, Mario Batali, and most recently Jeffrey Epstein, it has been increasingly difficult for anyone to hide their private misdeeds. Moral failings, lapses in judgment, and words that are spoken out of turn can be made available to a global audience in seconds. Many injustices that have occurred in the last century have been swiftly unearthed by those affected by the wrongdoers and shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other forms of social media. The masks and personas we shape online are not safe from what we do within our personal lives. Although every human being is imperfect and fallible, it is important we evaluate those cast into the public eye for their actions, not just by one instance of misconduct but by also evaluating their personal histories as well.

Gavel, taken from Pixabay.

The severity of the examples covered in the paragraph above leaves no room for doubt that they had shown a history of gross misconduct, but most average people do not have such a history. One moral failure can quickly ruin a person’s career and life in ways that could have only been made possible by Social Media.

Trip, a student at George Mason University said this about the current state of Social Media in relation to the wrongdoings of people, famous and common alike -

“Outrage Culture has created this “Never Forget” mentality where anyone’s wrongdoings are held out of mind until they are salient weapons to use in an argument, no matter how much change the person in question has experienced or reparations they have sought to pay… Outrage Culture is often hypocritical… F*ck racism, f*ck animal abuse, etc… but where is the line is the question. [Sic]”

It is difficult to say what Houts’ must do now to repair her damaged reputation and earn back the trust of her followers. While her actions are unjustifiable, Houts sits now among the many judged by the anonymous masses of Social Media and the Internet. Houts’ situation, like many before her, has shown us the power, speed, and scope of individuals have to identify and condemn misconduct. Although social media has perpetuated the idea that the only thing that matters is our online identities, Houts’ situation proves that everything we do matters, not just what happens in our pictures or when the camera is rolling.

Sources:

I’ve written on Quora for 2+ years. I enjoy writing about Philosophy, History, and other random things.

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