Updated on July 13 to add a comment from the mystery woman at the center of "Plane Bae."
Some called it the greatest love story ever told [on Twitter]. Others called it a gross invasion of privacy. Now, the woman behind "Plane Bae" has called her own story "poor taste in reporting."
Earlier this month, Dallas comedian Rosey Blair was on a plane flying into Dallas with her boyfriend — but their seats weren't together. Blair asked her would-be neighbor if they could swap seats, and the two women joked that the change in plans could result in the stranger meeting "the love of her life." Cue Blair and her boyfriend's excitement when an attractive man sat next to the woman, and the pair seemed to hit it off.
Blair, sitting behind the possible couple, began to document the "love story" on social media. Before long the thread went viral, attracting thousands of readers that included some celebrities. For many, it was nothing more than a joyous and entertaining tale of strangers possibly falling in love.
But the posts also attracted a lot of critics, all expressing concern for the privacy of these mystery people that Blair did not know.
Those fears were, it seems, justified. The mystery woman — who has asked media outlets to use only her first name, Helen — has been less fond of the spotlight than the mystery man, Euan Holden, trying to stay under the radar and declining an invitation to appear on the Today show. Despite her name and face not being explicitly displayed in the Plane Bae posts, Helen has been found, doxxed and harassed by strangers online. According to screenshots posted on various social media accounts, internet trolls started leaving rude and sexually explicit comments on her Instagram profile. Helen has since deleted her account.
For her part, Blair says she's "at a loss" following the backlash. She has posted an apology on Twitter, saying "I wish I could communicate the shame I feel in having done this, but I truly feel that at this point my feelings are irrelevant."
Blair's note specifically addresses Helen, saying, "I apologize for taking what should have been a beautiful charming moment among strangers as a tool to communicate a narrative I am fond of. I apologize for taking what should have been a small mundane moment of cheeriness and turning it into something foul and over-amplified. I apologize for taking away something that I myself value quite a bit — which is sharing one's own story publicly as means to inspire others. What I have done is in no ways inspirational."
The story has spawned a lot of discussion about the realities of privacy in the age of social media. An essay by blogger Ella Dawson, picked up by Vox, asks "Does privacy even exist in the digital age?" In it, Dawson says, "A woman boarded a plane in New York and stepped off that plane in Dallas. ... At no point did she agree to participate in the story Rosey Blair was telling." Later, she says of the fact that anybody can seemingly go viral at a moment's notice, "There is no opting-in, no consent form, no opportunity to take it all back."
After staying silent for more than a week, Helen issued a statement to Business Insider, via her lawyer. "I did not ask for and do not seek attention," she said. "#PlaneBae is not a romance — it is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent."
Blair may have apologized, but the effects of Plane Bae will linger. Many will still simply look back on it as a fun bit of internet drama that entertained them for an afternoon. Others will look at Blair as a cautionary tale and think twice before tweeting about what the stranger next to them is doing. As for the Plane Bae "couple," Holden told Today that he and Helend have been talking and that there is hope for another meeting. Assuming, of course, that all of this attention hasn't scared her away completely.