The Random Asshole Dilemma

On a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Rome, I held a business class ticket which was purchased from American Airlines, with this leg of the flight being on a “partner” airline.  Despite the flight being more than three hours, it didn’t actually have any business class, and so I received coach class seating and service.

Not to make a big deal of it, but the cost for business class is substantially greater than coach.  It wasn’t that the flight didn’t get me to Rome. It did. It wasn’t that flying coach was horrible. It wasn’t. It was that I paid for business class and didn’t get it.

So American Airlines and I had a chat, to the extent one can have a chat with an Airline, and, after going back and forth a few times via their online communication mechanism, the finally reached their conclusion: We have your money, you’re screwed.  By the end, they gave up trying to explain why, because they had no reason whatsoever, and just dumped the bottom line on me: Nope. We won’t refund the difference between business and coach for that flight. Because we don’t have to and you can’t make us.

They were, of course, correct. There was nothing legally to be done about their failure to deliver and refusal to do the right thing. So I made the decision to embarrass AA publicly for their actions, and took to the Twitters.  Up to now, this is backstory to the post.

I made a decision to use social media to go public with my complaint for the purpose of embarrassing AA. Sometimes, a business will change its position to avoid the public embarrassment, as did KitchenAid. Other times, not. But it was still my choice to take this course of action.

While doing so, a random person on Twitter who apparently follows me decided to insert himself into my stream with American Airlines by sending this twit:

Unfortunately, prefers to bang his head on a public brick wall instead of walking in the door you offer.

Now, this is some random person on twitter. No horse in the race, unless he’s being paid by AA to cover its butt, who gratuitously decided to stick his nose into my beef with American Airlines and cut me off at the knees.  Why, I wondered, did my decision to take this course of action compel him to actively seek to undermine me?

So I asked, and he told me:

You had a problem you wanted resolved. I felt you were going about it the wrong way and spoke up. …

This is the random asshole dilemma.  The nature of social media is that every asshole who so desires has the ability to see what you’re doing, and the ability to speak up if he so chooses.  Hey, that’s the nature of the beast.

But why?  Because he “felt” I was going about it the wrong way?  You mean, someone was wrong on the internets and so it was your duty to correct them?

There are a lot of people on the internets. No matter what, someone will think you’re wrong. They may be right. They may not. But someone will always disagree with what you’re doing.

But the question is whether there is a sufficient need for someone who has no interest in the outcome, no need to cure the stupid, no financial stake, to randomly insert their feelz into what someone else is doing, for the purpose of burning them.

I don’t know this twitterer. Yes, I can google him just as you can, but that’s not what I mean. Is he some flaming nutjob? Is he an airline vigilante? Is he just one of the millions of busybody morons who don’t have enough to do that they need to insert themselves into matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with them just to undermine what someone else is doing?

He didn’t need to approve of my decision to take to the Twitters. He didn’t know what happened before he stuck his nose in, and his sensibility of how best to handle the matter doesn’t dictate my choice.  But his deliberately trying to undermine what I was doing, which didn’t involve him at all, was what turned him into the random asshole.

It’s not that I suggest silencing the random asshole. That would have deleterious consequences in many ways, and keeping the format open to all is far more important than suffering the random asshole who just can’t stop himself from sticking his nose in for no purpose other than to screw up what another person is doing.

And that’s the dilemma.  Social media is replete with random assholes. Of the millions of people online, you can bank on someone doing something inexplicably stupid, with no purpose on their part other than to screw you up because they, in their infinite wisdom, would handle it differently.

So the only answer is to think to yourself, “don’t be the random asshole.”  Don’t insert yourself into someone else’s business just because you can unless what you’re trying to accomplish is to undermine whatever they’re up to. You may disagree with how they’re handling things. You may not have a clue why they’re doing what they’re doing, because you don’t know the background, so you have this impulse to put in your two cents for kicks.

But that makes you the random asshole. Don’t be that random asshole.  No matter how much you feel like someone is wrong on the internets, if it doesn’t involve you or any real interest that demands correcting, don’t be the random asshole.


39 thoughts on “The Random Asshole Dilemma

  1. Thomas

    Sorry, but in this case this seems appropriate:
    “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

    Who would have known that Neitzsche knew about the internet long before it was invented?

  2. traderprofit

    I promise you’ll forget about this little airline problem if you just start overpaying for everything else.
    Works for me.
    For example, I’ve been waiting all week for tickets to the Mayweather fight to drop.
    and I just found this incredible deal
    Floor Side A –
    $71,760.48 each

    BTW, this happened to me with Turkish , but at least they gave me an entire row of coach to myself for 7 hours. Finns and Europeans in general are too minimalist to understand. But, they do have EU 261/2004, the bane of all airlines flying to or from Europe.

    1. SHG Post author

      My wife always tells me that everything sucks so I’ll have low expectations and never be disappointed.

  3. Patrick Maupin

    First of all, it is always right and just to publicly shame a company that doesn’t deliver what you paid for and then wants to keep your money.

    That sentence alone was over 140 characters. Twitter is absolutely perfect for those who want to tell you you are doing it wrong, but who don’t want to give an example of the right way to do it. Being a gambling man myself, I prefer to comment places like here, where I’ll either get lots more than 140 characters, or zero characters.

    So on Twitter, I wouldn’t be able to make my second point (at least in the same tweet) about how it’s always good to get your money back, too.

    Usually, when I do this the hourly rate is quite low, but also, usually, when I ignore the sunk costs of all the stuff I already did that didn’t work, the hourly rate for the thing that actually works isn’t completely terrible.

    In the most similar case I experienced, I got my money back when AA changed out the equipment on a flight, and I no longer had the exit row seats with the extra leg room that I had paid for. So I explained to my credit card company that I was disputing a portion of the bill, for services not delivered, and they deducted that, and AA never challenged my dispute. But this probably only worked because my dispute was timely and my credit card was issued by a credit union, not a big impersonal bank.

  4. fledermaus

    It sounds like what you are describing is something comedians have had to put up with forever, The Heckler. It’s fun to read interviews where comedians talk about how they learned to deal with them over the years. But now with social media anyone can be heckled and we haven’t had enough experience to deal with them.

    1. SHG Post author

      Similar, but I don’t think it’s quite the same. The heckler has motive to disrupt. There was no harmful purpose here, just a random person being an asshole.

  5. Pingback: Your Reputation Goes Ching Chang Chong | Associate's Mind

  6. SHG

    #Irony. This on twitter:

    Here’s an idea: If you don’t want your opinions discussed in an open forum, don’t put them out in an open forum.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

    1. L

      Jim Hughes mistook your post about random assholes on the internet for a call for random assholes on the internet, and dutifully responded.

      (Jim, if you’re reading, could you point to the part of this post where SHG says that he doesn’t want his opinions discussed in an open forum?)

  7. Gavin

    I see three things here.

    First, next time you are buying an air ticket, check out the seat maps at before you finalize. AA will let you put a reservation on hold for 24hrs before you purchase. United will let you fully refund any ticket within 24hrs of purchase. Every airline has some variation of this rule. Use it to double check. The thing you are mad about was publicly available and disclosed to you; regardless of any obligation you might feel AA has, you still could have double checked this all before you left.

    Second, despite your denials, it really looks like you’re trying to suck and blow at the same time. You went to twitter because it was totally public. You were hoping to shame AA into doing what’s right. Why can’t some random asshole who sees right the other way share their opinion? If you’re not trying to start a conversation about what’s right to do, what are you trying to do? And why is the random asshole all that different from all those other assholes bmaz mentions who supported you?

    Finally, you don’t go into details of your seat, but it sure sounds like you just got surprised by what “business class” means in Europe. I’m now going to write a lot of blather based on my assumption.

    Typically inside of Europe, the business class seat is just a regular economy seat near the front, and they don’t assign the middle seat of the three seat blocks. Typically there’s still a “business class” food and beverage service, which usually also is kind of lame compared to what you’d get on even a Boston JFK shuttle from AA. If you didn’t like that, well, I understand. It really sucks, especially coming off of a red eye from North America. Try and enjoy the flight attendants who mostly seem genuinely nice and concerned with the passenger’s comfort, something we haven’t had in North America in a long time.

    On the other hand, within East and Southeast Asia, you might find yourself really pleasantly surprised by business class. Cathay Pacific, another AA partner, serves Seoul-Taipei and Taipei-HK flights, both quite short flights, with a business class lay flat seat with a very high quality meal service. This isn’t normally available on domestic AA flights except maybe some of the JFK-LAX flights.

    Isn’t one of the delights and frustrations of travel to see the different standards and different practices in other countries? With European business class, you found one of the frustrations…

    Parenthetically, I can think of one, much better reason not to use AA for business class travel. AA is really stingy about reaccommodating even business class passengers in a delay. My experience on United has been that the agents will try and convince you they can’t do anything, but polite requests and a reference to their conditions of carriage almost always gets them to do right: they’ll buy you a ticket on any competing carrier if United isn’t making it happen. American Airlines, not so much. Their conditions of carriage are less generous too, although my experience is that neither airline particularly feels they are bound to obey their half of the promises in that contract.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sigh. You’ve done what some others have done, which is assume you know what the underlying problem was when you don’t, yet proceed on your own assumption. Your assumptions in the first paragraph are completely off-base (the why it happened isn’t the point, nor the solution). Don’t assume. More importantly, don’t assume and then beg the question based on your mistaken assumptions.

      But then you reach the core mistaken assumption of the random asshole:

      Why can’t some random asshole who sees right the other way share their opinion?

      Only a narcissistic idiot thinks they know what’s “right” without any of the background information. Only a fool thinks there is “a right way,” which conveniently happens to be their way. Your comment embodies everything that makes the random asshole an asshole, and the irony is that you demonstrate no grasp of why.

      Lawyers know that they never give advice without knowing all the facts. Lawyers know that there are always multiple ways to address a problem, and only by weighing the various factors, risks, etc., can they reach an effective strategy. Even so, they realize there’s no guarantee that it will work, or even maximize their chances of success. They reassess constantly, and adjust to shifting actions and reactions.

      Others see only simplistic approaches, blindly projecting what worked for them given their situation as being the “right” answer for all people under all situations. Still, most are smart enough to not stick their nose into someone else’s business, if for no other reason than it’s not their place to screw up what someone else is doing when they have no role to play.

      And then there are the random assholes, the ones whose grasp is shallow and ignorant, and who can’t stop himself from inserting himself in other people’s business, because they’re so smart and so right. And suffers from Dunning-Kruger. And the irony is, and always will be, that the random asshole is incapable of seeing why he’s the random asshole because in his head, he’s RIGHT, RIGHT, RIGHT!!!

      The problem with the random asshole is that he doesn’t realize he’s an asshole. Some will read this post and think, “even though I’m right, maybe I should keep my nose out of what other people are doing.” But some will argue, as you do, that because they are absolutely certain they’re right, they must insert themselves into other people’s business. Which one are you?

  8. Robert Davidson

    According to AAs own Customer Service FAQs:
    Q: I had a First Class (or Business Class) ticket but I actually flew in Coach Class. How do I obtain a refund?
    A: First Class and Business Class ticketholders are entitled to a refund in the amount of the difference between the fare paid and the price of a full-fare ticket in the cabin in which the passenger actually flew.

    Did AA charge you a Business Class fare for that leg of the flight? Did they then say that it is less expensive than a full fare (non-refundable) coach ticket? If so, that is an awfully weaselly way to get out of paying a refund. If not, they are adding yet another layer of horrible to their customer service.

    1. SHG Post author

      I quote from the third tier customer service response, all of which preceded my bringing this out on Twitter:

      In evaluating your request, we carefully reviewed our policies and procedures as they relate to this matter. In our research we confirmed that your seats were classified as Business Class seating on Finnair. While I am sorry for the situation you encountered, we must respectfully decline your request for the difference in compensation regarding the business class seating on your recent trip from Helsinki to Rome. I am sorry.

      And that, as they say, is that. If you can divine a rational explanation for their refusal to refund the differential in there, you’re a better man than I.

      1. L

        To me, the explanation is glaringly obvious. They don’t want to. That message practically concedes that they should, but they simply are not going to. Is that a rational explanation? In a sense, it’s the most rational explanation, but… not really rational in the sense you’re asking.

        1. SHG Post author

          And that is why I decided to play with them publicly. When the answer is “we don’t gotta and we ain’t gonna,” the only thing left to do is have some fun.

  9. Sgt. Schultz

    On the one hand, it’s adorable that people want to help you to fix your AA problem (or tell you how wrong you are in how you’ve chosen to deal with it). On the other hand, the inability to understand that this post isn’t seeking help, but using it as an example of an entirely different issue, is just astounding. I never cease to be amazed at how people are incapable of getting an obvious point.

    And, of course, the irony of how the same people who don’t get it are the ones most insistent on how right they are.

    1. SHG Post author

      As social experiments go, nothing has taught me more about people than the comment section here. Except maybe reddit, but reddit makes me cry too much.

  10. Robert Davidson

    Finnair business class flights inside Europe mean the middle seat is empty and the extra special meals served with Marimekko flatware and textiles. Oxymoron of the week: Finnair Business Class.

    If there was someone in the middle seat or your meal was no different than everyone else’s, you might be able to turn them around for not even meeting the low business class quality bar they set for themselves.

    1. SHG Post author

      See the reply button? It’s there for a reason. As for the flight, see this. Or to put it another way, much as its nice of you to concern yourself with the problem I had with AA (not Finnair, who I neither paid nor care a whit about), that’s not the point of the post. Not even the tiniest bit.

      1. Robert Davidson

        It has been so long since someone considered me adorable I will do my best to stay on topic.

        The power of going public on social media is the anticipated groundswell of support. A twit that isn’t replied, retweeted or favorited isn’t going to get a company to do anything. Amazingly, a lawyer’s twit about sitting in an expensive coach seat was not as inspiring as a video of musician’s instruments being tossed around the tarmac accompanied by a catchy tune.

        I’d be interested in finding out what a lawyer with 30 years of experience in crisis management and media relations does when the reaction to a social media sally not only doesn’t generate the expected groundswell but also generates a nearly equal amount of negative feedback. Is blogging that negatives are ignorant busybodies an effective technique to inspire a larger positive groundswell? How are the positives any less ignorant or busybodyish? Is it reasonable to expect the negatives to stay silent while the positives light up the Internet? Should you feed the “helpful” ones a slow drip of details about the flight in the hope of keeping the audience’s interest and inspiring the ire of fencesitters (a la wikileaks)?

        On the other hand, taking a spin on the roulette wheel of social media and leaving it up to the whim of the internet is a perfectly valid approach if you don’t complain about the results – especially if you profess proficiency in preventing the future from being left to the whim of the media.

        Note that AA really does want to “protect your privacy”: ROSEER + Scott Greenfield does not pull up a reservation on Think about what is involved in accomplishing that and compare it to the level of effort required to ensure that partners provide equivalent classes of service. That there is crisis management and professional media relations!

        1. SHG Post author

          Sorry to burst your assumption, but the groundswell was pretty huge. The issue raised in this post reflected one person. The RTs, Favs and helpful commentary was in the thousands. I kinda have a clue what I’m doing.

          That you wouldn’t know this from the outside is how social media works. That you don’t realize that you don’t know this from the outside is how people who really don’t understand how social media works assumes it to work.

          You assume a great deal in your comment. It’s irrelevant to me, as it reflects the scope of your understanding rather than mine, which would be important if this was about you. But it’s not.

          And your attempt to take a swipe back at me to sooth your butthurt is obvious and feeble. The only question now is whether you will continue to dig. You have a grand total of three comments at SJ, all on this post. Will you go for four? I suspect you will.

          1. Robert Davidson

            When you have a tiger by the tail, don’t let go!

            Before I commented I looked at the “took to the twitters” link as well as your other aa twits visible from your twitter home page. I can’t find one that gets above single digit retweets, favs or replies. My twitter ignorance IS strong. It is quite possible that there is a mass of responses I don’t know how to see. If you are feeling generous about increasing the scope of my understanding, where are the thousands of RTs, FAVs and replies?

            My experience comes from the other side – figuring out how to respond to concerns raised in social media from a systems perspective. The issue visibility and Klout scores are a big driver of the response level. If the concern doesn’t hit certain scores and no internal policies were violated, a customer service decision isn’t overridden, supplier standards aren’t explored, systems and policies aren’t changed.

            1. SHG Post author

              Shrug. If this was about proving something to you, then I would. It’s not. In fact, it’s not about any of the concerns you raised, but that because you’re “experience comes from the other side.” This explains why you didn’t get the post, and still don’t get the point. From your perspective, this might well be the point.

              And I knew you would be back. You just had to dig deeper.

        2. Sgt. Schultz

          You are growing more and more adorable with each comment. Please do it again. Please!!!

        3. David M.

          You also seem to have misunderstood SHG. His problem isn’t with some hypothetical guy on Twitter taking AA’s side. It’s with a guy who was neutral with respect to the dispute, or maybe even in principle on SHG’s side, but who decided that, because he knows best how to solve other people’s problems, he was entitled to stick his nose in and distract from SHG’s message. This is about internet narcissism, not taking sides in a beef.

          1. SHG Post author

            He still thinks this is about AA. I can explain it to him but I cannot understand it for him.

            1. Robert Davidson

              Naw – This is a standard PR messaging issue. Like you said – no matter what you say, some people will disagree with it. You ask the question why do some people go public with their disagreement?

              When you write stuff that is inflammatory enough to create thousands of supportive responses you complain about the 1-2 disagreements? “He had a hat!”

            2. SHG Post author

              Yes, PR messaging. Isn’t everything really just PR?

              I write about issues that I find interesting here. People who read here know that. People who assume that I must have a mercenary purpose because they can’t comprehend why anyone would write otherwise, do not. What you couldn’t possibly realize is that other readers understand this about SJ, and they see in you just another day tripper who thinks he knows better. A lot of guys like you come and go.

              You remind me of the marketeers who assume I must be using this blog to sell something as they can’t conceive of a possible reason to have a blog if not to sell something. We laugh at them. What your mistake is that you project your motives on me. It’s good for a laugh, but that’s usually about all.

              Sometimes, an idea comes out of a commenter like you that I decide to write about, just as happened with this post and a couple of twits. That’s just how it happens here.

            3. Robert Davidson

              I have enjoying your thoughts for years. Grasping the edges of what you write about reminds me how I thought before my company sponsored soulectomy.

              Now I spend my day thinking about negative/positive sentiment ratios, Klout scores, and cost benefit analysis while coming up with a fair, defensible, auditable, and affordable way to respond to thousands of social media.

              There is definitely a distance between the way you think about things and the way I do. Bridging it is tough when our interests and motivation differ as much as they do. I admit (and apologize for) bear baiting in the “adorable” post. Genuine interest did inspire the baiting.

            4. SHG Post author

              Hell, I didn’t even know Klout still existed. The only time I cared was when they sent me something I liked. I just checked and saw that I have a Klout score of 63, but since they don’t send me free stuff like they used to, I don’t give a damn. But if Klout is important to you, then I wish you great Klout.

  11. Fubar

    And that’s the dilemma. Social media is replete with random assholes.

    That’s good reason to be optimistic,
    Though you may think my logic simplistic:
    If assholes weren’t random
    They’d show up in tandem.
    So I’m glad they’re not deterministic!

  12. Anon Prawf

    We’ve all endured the “random asshole dilemma,” but it’s quite fascinating to watch it play out again in the comments, as people project their own issues onto yours. Davidson is an absolute riot, and he doesn’t have a clue why. Amazing.

    1. SHG Post author

      Davidson reminds me of a lot of people out there, filled with certainty while functioning clueless. He is the poster boy for Dunning-Kruger, but he’s got a lot of competition.

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