Runaway Shaming, Hair Chopping: Using Instagram For Evil

We tend to react badly when we’re denied something we’re owed. It brings out the angry toddler in us. For some enlightened Buddhist types, maybe, the tantrum takes place internally and lasts only from one breath to another. But not for most of us. If we’re lucky, no one sees the tantrum, or only a few select loving, forgiving individuals. If we’re unlucky and we can’t resist the pull of our iPhones, our tantrums make the rounds and get recorded for posterity.

Two recent news stories about people who felt cheated — and who posted their attempts to correct the injustice on Instagram — underline the way that social media can exacerbate and publicize our worst tendencies, especially when it comes to money. In one case, a hair stylist cut out a little girl’s braids after the girl’s mother gave the stylist the runaround, and then posted pictures of her handiwork, the little girl’s ravaged head. The action attracted widespread scorn because she took her anger out on the child, who wasn’t at fault, and because she put the evidence on the Internet. The stylist defended herself:

I cut the braids out and went on about my business. At the end of the day, I spent 9 hours away from my kids for nothing. Y’all wasn’t in my shoes or in my position. I have to take care of my three babies and I will do what I have to do to let it be known that I don’t play when it comes to my job or supporting my family.

Well, she has made her point: no one could mistake her for someone who messes around! In a similar vein, hopefully somehow people will also learn to avoid these employers, the Kuwaiti women who are using Instagram to track down, or at least stigmatize, their “runaway maids.”

Kuwaiti domestic workers are being named and shamed on an Instagram account called Mn7asha, or “runaway”. The account description reads, “An account to display pictures of servants fleeing in Kuwait, together to put an end to this phenomenon.” The account lists a number to send photos to via the mobile messenger Whatsapp and says, “Hand in hand we can make a difference, even a small one.”

According to the depressing write up on the website Migrant Rights,

Within this week, the page has published 78 photos of absconded workers as well as ‘explanatory notes.’ In one of the first posts, the account holder explained “this account was established because these runaways maids leave our houses and go work elsewhere. So we want to alarm others not to hire them.” Another post encouraged followers to “take a picture of the housemaid if she is temporarily hired, just in case she runs away.” … few other options are available to domestic workers subject to abusive or exploitative conditions that often amount to forced labor; domestic workers are heavily constrained in their ability to lodge a complaint against employers. They not only have virtually zero access to translators or attorneys, but under Kuwaiti law have minimal standing to sue unless the issue is related to unpaid wages. Most legal cases that succeed in penalizing the abusive sponsors involve only very severe abuse or death. Embassies are largely unwilling to interfere in employer-employee relationships, and even then do so only on humanitarian, not legal, grounds.

It’s hard not to think of the Fugitive Slave Act. If Instagram had been around in 1850, you can be sure slaveowners would have been using it the same way. Maybe the app should urge its users, “Don’t be evil — or at least don’t channel your evil, vengeful impulses through us.” Keep your tantrums, however justified they might seem to you in the moment, off the Internets.