(Update: After this article was published, I spoke with the Delta Airlines passenger who shot the viral airplane video and put it on Facebook, who says she's "totally caught off guard" by how quickly it spread--and feels sorry for the passenger she recorded.)
Let this be a lesson. Nobody is ever truly anonymous anymore. All it takes is one viral video, and your worst, unguarded moments--the ones that make you look truly unprofessional--can wind up defining you for life.
You probably saw the start of this story earlier this week. It all takes place in what we might think of as the great equalizer of the modern age--economy class on a major airline.
Now it's the Delta passenger herself who might be out of a job. (Here's the simple reason why Delta Airlines employees are happier than at some other airlines.)
News reports identified her as Susan Peirez. At the start of the video (embedded below), she sure sounds like she's warning: "I work for the governor."
That comment comes after she was allegedly "screaming" at another passenger and that woman's baby--but before she warns the flight attendant, who gives her name as Tabitha: "Thank you, Tabitha. You may not have a job tomorrow."
Days later, it's Peirez, assuming she's been correctly identified, who has been put on leave from her $95,000-a-year job as a program director at the N.Y. Council on the Arts.
"We were notified of this situation and have commenced an investigation," a state spokesperson told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. "This employee has been removed from the office and placed on leave until further notice and until the inquiry is resolved."
Marissa Rundell, the mom who taped the interaction and posted the video on Facebook (where it has 1.6 million views so far), told the newspaper that the woman (Peirez) swore loudly before the video started, and that she was ultimately kicked off the plane.
Rundell said the woman was the last to originally board the plane and used a series of expletives when realizing her seat was in the back of the aircraft, leading Rundell to twice ask the woman not to use coarse language around her son.
The second time, the woman heard her and told her to shut up, according to Rundell, a Mary Kay consultant and cheerleading coach.
"I started recording right after that," she said.
Rundell praised the flight attendant, saying she "couldn't have handled it any better."
But Rundell--like many of us watching this story--reacted with mixed feelings to the latest news about Peirez's repercussions.
"I feel bad because of it, because I know it's because I posted that video," Rundell said. "A part of me feels like she's getting what she deserved. And then another part of me just feels bad that it's happening, because I don't know her story."
Indeed. There's no doubt that it's an ugly interaction, but seriously, who among us hasn't behaved badly once or twice in life?
We have no idea who Peirez really is: whether she's normally an incredibly nice person who was having a horrible day and reacted badly, or whether that's how she normally acts.
But I guess this is how it's just going to be now.
We all risk being judged by our worst moments--and not just in the fleeting moment and by those who witnessed it firsthand, but by the entire world, and potentially for years.
At this point, Peirez has been featured prominently in conservative outlets like Fox News and The Daily Mail. (It probably doesn't help her that she works for a Democratic governor.)
I guess it's like mom used to always say: Be on your best behavior. By the way, I've reached out to both Rundell and Peirez via Facebook. If either of them responds further, I'll update this column. (Update: Rundell responded. In case Ms. Peirez reads this and wants to talk, here's my contact form.)