It was a story that instantly went viral. Rachel*, a 25-year-old woman, had been asked on a date by a man through the medium of TikTok. But when she arrived at the venue, he ghosted her, leaving her alone and humiliated in public. Still, unbeknownst to her, that very event would launch her back into the world of virtual fame – not as a loved-up influencer, but as the star of an excruciatingly embarrassing story, quickly spread across social media.
Rachel had been using videos on TikTok to document her life and build up a network of followers for months before the fateful incident occurred. She had just secured her first serious job interview when the invitation popped up. It came from Sean*, another TikTok user three years her senior. He suggested they meet up for drinks and Rachel cherry-picked a bar close to her home for their first date. Eager, she rushed out the door, dressed to impress with all her hopes for the future resting on her career prospects.
It didn’t turn out the way she expected. When Rachel arrived, she was unable to locate Sean and sent him a message asking where he was – yet he made no reply. After waiting 15 minutes, a sinking feeling developed in the pit of her stomach. She had been ghosted – a heartless act she was rapidly becoming all too familiar with. With oodles of shame mixed in with self-directed anger, Rachel slunk away embarrassed, vowing never to use the app again.
However, this isn’t always the end of the story. Around twenty minutes after Rachel left the bar, Sean sent her a message, apologising for ‘confusing the time’ and expressing gratitude that she had gone drinking twice in one night to meet him. Little did he expect Rachel to have already vented her frustration in an angry post about being ‘stood up’ - which went viral within hours, crashing through 150,000 views within 24 hours. Her zero-star review of Sean, coupled with her air of indignation, made Internet users click like wildfire - and Rachel’s mini-celebrity career was born.
The intense scrutiny and attention was uncomfortable for Rachel. She was thrust into an entirely new world of having hundreds of comments and messages pouring into her notifications. Though some were supportive and others indifferent, the majority were negative and downright cruel, calling her attempt to gain recognition through humiliation as ‘distasteful’ and overly ambitious. One commenter even went so far as to create a meme which spread online, accompanying her post with a picture of a young woman bereft against a desolate moonlit landscape – a foul reminder of the day’s events.
When asked whether it had been worth the humiliation, Rachel plainly answered 'no'. She had gone out of her way to secure a job, but instead of getting hired, she gained thousands of unwelcome visitors to her profile. Though the story has become infamous, there’s still a happy ending – earlier last year, Rachel did find a job; less publicly than anticipated, but much more rewarding in the long run.
The sagas of social media are limitless, and Rachel’s story serves as a reminder to us all about the power of the interconnected universe which makes up the Web. What may seem like a small mistake can easily spiral out of control and manifest in the form of global attention - a lesson to all of us about the importance of privacy and emotional accountability when connecting with strangers online.
Rachel took comfort from the fact that her story could help people in a similar situation, and offer a degree of solace to those seeking had been through a similar experience. As she said, “At least I had knowledge that I wasn't alone, and maybe I could help someone else feel less betrayed, hurt, and humiliated. That's what got me through it.”