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With cameras everywhere, why do viral tantrums surprise those who throw them?

The world can see you, for good or evil. How do you want that story to go?

SHARE With cameras everywhere, why do viral tantrums surprise those who throw them?
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People wearing masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19 are reflected next to a sign requiring face coverings at a business in San Antonio, Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in San Antonio.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

My mother loved to recount the day 2-year-old me threw myself down in the street while walking with my older siblings, furious at who knows what.

They told Mom what happened the second we got home and she demanded I explain myself. I was young, but not self-destructive. I recast my tantrum — something along the lines of “a car bumped me and I fell.” She kept pressing and my story kept changing.

Finally, I confessed: “I frew me down.”

My parents are long gone, but the phrase still echoes through my extended family, ridiculous but funny.

Today, my siblings wouldn’t need to tattle. There’d have been a hundred cameras around to catch it on tape and lots of social media posts, with commentary from strangers. It might have beaten me home.

It’s astounding how many people think they can throw tantrums, exhibit extreme road rage, screech profanity and berate clerks without expecting anyone to call them to task. Often, when tirades become public, they rewrite the event, as if it wasn’t widely viewable, often with millions of “shares.” Public displays of temper, criminality or other bad behavior have an almost-guaranteed afterlife.

This has been a big year for public outbursts of immaturity, anger and rudeness. You can pick how tolerantly you want to view them. If you don’t believe me, google them by pairing words like “mask” and “tantrum.”

Cellphones document not just our own, but others’ lives, good and bad. Videos have become a useful tool for law enforcement. Consider how many arrests resulted from images of a small crowd overturning a police car in Salt Lake City during a protest against inequitable policing recently.

Or the woman in Central Park who called police and claimed she was being threatened after a Black birdwatcher asked her to put her dog on a leash. 

Recently, viral video have shown tantrums reminiscent of 2-year-old me by people asked to wear a mask in grocery stores or coffee shops.

Some wounds are self-inflicted. A woman who posted a photo of a coffee shop employee who asked her to wear a mask certainly never expected someone who read her post to start a GoFundMe page for the barista, reportedly raising over $80,000.

Customers filmed a woman screaming as she threw items from her shopping cart, one at a time, dashing them on the ground after being asked to put on a mask. She stormed out, proclaiming she wouldn’t be back — probably to the great relief of the store and fellow shoppers, regardless of how they felt about masks.

I lament that public health officials initially said masks don’t protect one against COVID-19; it created confusion that reporters like me helped spread. No one ever said, though, that they don’t reduce the chance one could unknowingly spread respiratory illness to others. That’s why people are being asked to wear masks — to protect others. That means the “my body, my choice” rebuke isn’t true. It’s more accurate to say “your body, my choice,” which misses the Good Samaritan aspect of wearing masks.

We don’t think anything of “No shoes, no shirts, no service” signs we all grew up with. Most people willingly wear seatbelts, another public health tool. Why do masks create such wrath?

I don’t see them as political, unless trying to make sure young children don’t get something decidedly nasty that resembles Kawasaki disease is political. If there’s the most remote chance my donning a cloth mask will prevent an older adult or my husband, who had a transplant, from getting sick or even dying, I’ll do it.

People have choices. You can pick up groceries curbside or have them delivered if you really can’t wear a mask. You can brew your own coffee.

What you shouldn’t do is scream profanities at a worker who’s doing her job by enforcing local rules or company policy. Throwing items and pitching a fit?

That deserves the ridicule it attracts. By age 3, I had stopped “frowing me down.”