What was meant to be an innocent Star Wars selfie has ended up causing major problems for a man in Australia. The incident has also ignited conversations online about how men are often perceived as guilty before any valid proof of wrongdoing is made available.
The father of three teenagers was shopping in a Melbourne Target last week when he noticed the Star Wars display, which featured a cut-out of Darth Vader. The man, whose identity is not being made public by police for safety reasons, decided to take a selfie with the Darth cut-out to send to his kids as a joke.
The man had never taken a selfie before but thought his kids would get a kick out of it. While taking his picture, he noticed a group of children standing around. Thinking they also wanted to take selfies with the Star Wars merchandise, the man let them know that he was finishing up with his picture and would soon be on his way.
The kids’ mom was nearby and mistakenly thought that the man had been taking pictures of her children. She reported the man to mall security but was not satisfied with that course of action. She then posted a picture she had taken of the man on Facebook, calling him “a creep.”
The post ended up being shared more than 20,000 times with people quickly labelling the man a pedophile.
The man first found out about the campaign against him when he was in a business meeting and his phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Wondering why he was getting so many calls, he eventually called someone back and found out his picture was being shared on Facebook.
The man immediately went to the Melbourne police and explained the situation. The police investigated his story, checked the contents of his phone and cleared him of any suspicion.
They asked that people think before they shared information or photos on social media and said that people should only rely on reputable sources of information like the media and police stations.
Detective Acting Inspector Allan Price of the Melbourne police said this incident was a timely reminder of the risks of social media. “We would encourage anyone in a similar situation to contact police and report the matter as opposed to turning to social media,” he said.
The man says that he has gotten death threats and is afraid to leave his house. He added that he felt men were definitely vulnerable to what happened to him. “I feel like I can’t even look at anyone or smile at them in public now. It’s frightening.”
Are men always perceived as guilty before proven innocent?
Male readers of the story on The Knox Leader echoed these sentiments. Reader Steven explained that he is wary of helping children in public.
“I had a toddler fall at my feet at the local shopping centre and I started to bend down the help the poor kid up, I got the worst death stare from the … mother,” he said.
So I backed off & left (the child) there sprawled on the ground with its ice cream smeared all over the floor, and it was crying inconsolably …
I won’t be pausing to help ever again,” he said.
Chris, another reader, commented on Facebook, “I was at the park with my grandchild, girl falls off the swing next to me no way I was picking her up. Sad, sad world.”
Woman apologetic for trouble she’s caused
As for the woman who posted the picture, she’s since taken it down and has apologized for her part in this. She says she’s received two death threats because of the post and her children are in counselling.
“One thousand times over I wish I could just take it back,” said the woman. “I think the biggest lesson out of it all is not to post anything that could hurt anybody on any media.”
Police have decided not to charge her as the man in the picture does not want to pursue charges. There are plans in the works for the man and woman to meet so that she can apologize in person.
Let this story serve as a reminder of the perils of social media sharing. The next time you see a story making the rounds on social media, maybe step back before hitting the “share” button. Apologies and corrections never get the attention that accusations do.