A young man is apologizing for online comments he made that cost him his job in a Burlington, Vermont restaurant.
"I am truly sorry," Thanh Mai told necn Wednesday. "I hurt a lot of people."
Mai, who described himself as an online troll who pokes fun of issues aiming to get a rise out of others, now admits he went too far last week.
He mocked the #MeToo movement on social media, minimizing the stories of sexual assault survivors and cracking vulgar rape jokes.
"They were atrocious," he said of his own posts.
Following those posts, other web users complained to his employer, the Mexican restaurant Bueno y Sano in downtown Burlington.
As necn reported last week, the eatery swiftly fired him, saying in a statement Mai clearly violated the company’s policies around respectful treatment of people.
In an interview with necn, Mai claimed he only meant his posts as satire, directed at a few friends in particular he thought would react to his remarks.
However, once reaction to the posts spread like wildfire and he learned how sexual violence affected someone close to him, Mai realized he was wrong.
"I’m standing up for the victims now, instead of against them," Mai said.
When pressed on that pledge, because others will presumably now hold Mai to a higher standard where any future disrespectful comments could draw scorn or calls for greater accountability, the admitted troll said, "I understand that, and I’m going to live up to my word."
Annie Valentine, the bystander intervention coordinator for the University of Vermont’s StepUP! program, said many web users may feel the desire in situations like this to get involved.
Valentine said if anyone chooses to react to ugly online posts, she hopes they do so in pro-social, helpful ways that compassionately embrace targets of abusive language or people who may be feeling hurt by the content.
"If more people with positive messages can bring their voice to the forefront, then we’re going to hopefully have these positive messages that override the negative," Valentine said.
Elaine Young, a professor at Champlain College’s Stiller School of Business who focuses on digital marketing and business applications for social media, said society has constantly had to confront changing modes of communication for the last decade or so.
"We’re still figuring out these social tools," Young noted. "They’re not that old. We should still be able to have a dialogue without calling people out, or shaming people because of their belief or what they’ve been through. That’s just being human beings, and I think we’re forgetting that a little bit."
When asked if he is going to continue trolling people, Thanh Mai paused, and responded, "I think I’ve got to take a step back and re-evaluate how I want to spend my free time."
The internet will surely be watching.