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Oklahoma shoplifter viral video: What constitutes good and bad sharing?

A video of a shoplifter in at a Walmart in Oklahoma has gone viral. We share millions of things everyday online, but how much thought do we put into what people will do with it once we hit the 'post' button?

Damian Dovarganes/AP/FILE
In this May 28, 2013, file photo, an outdoors sign for Walmart is seen in Duarte, Calif.

As parents, we are used to teaching our kids to share. I am in the middle of teaching a nearly 2-year-old that no, not everything in his visible universe belongs to him. In a few years from now, I know I will also be teaching him about what not to share, as in, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all."

This relates to what parents choose to share online as well. Beyond kid photos and daily anecdotes that we share online, there are videos, quizzes, quotes, .gifs, new stories, blog posts, and all manner of other digital footprints we lay down each day. 

And there is good sharing and bad sharing. In general, I feel that good sharing makes people feel good, doesn’t need an extensive explanation (“Am I looking at a hoof or a ballet slipper?”), and doesn’t tend to polarize people of different opinions. (This might be one reason cat videos have had such a good run.)

This week, I saw on Good Morning America a video posted on Facebook of a man hurriedly loading up his SUV with goods he allegedly stole from a Walmart near Tulsa, Okla, My first reaction was that it didn’t make me feel good, and it was a great example in my eyes of bad sharing. The desk team at the morning show applauded the man who videotaped the alleged shoplifter for his “good samaritan” deed, but something struck me.

In the video, you can hear a woman shouting from the front seat to her male companion, as he unloads a cart of un-bagged groceries into the running SUV. On the top of that cart? A giant box of diapers. This guy wasn't running out with laptops and jewelry, he was running out with groceries. And we have no idea who was waiting for all of those diapers.

If the video is the real-life version of "Raising Arizona" and the man did indeed steal, he is in the wrong. However, who are we, as Facebook friends of the “good samaritan” – and now the broader Internet audience – to serve as vigilantes and track him down? 

The crime-stopping videographer offered a play-by-play of the crime and even tried to capture the VIN on the alleged shoplifter's car, since the plate had been ripped off the vehicle. But, why post it to Facebook? Why not hand it directly to the authorities?

It seems as though the point of sharing the video is to rile up fellow shoppers and online friends, but to what end? Should they go to the shoplifter's house and take the stuff back? What is the call to action? In my mind, I feel compelled to wonder how I can help someone so in need they feel tempted to steal. But, I am not sure that is the way everyone responds, and I don't think videos like these necessarily help deliver a positive call to action.

Now, another viral video involving diapers. Earlier this month in Sioux Falls, S.D., a woman at a Walmart was videotaped buying diapers for a young mom. As the report goes, the woman was about to leave when she saw a young mother trying to price-match multiple boxes of diapers (Walmart will match competitors lower prices, however only on one item). When the store couldn’t price-match multiple boxes, the young mom said she could only get one box (Which parents know will last for roughly one week, or two days, since you can never predict these things). The other woman stepped in, purchased $120 of diapers, shared some encouraging words, and went on her way. 

This video also went viral, and in my opinion, is a great example of good sharing. What does it inspire me to do? Go out and help those in need. Granted, I am sure others could have had a different view, but my hope is that people watching were inspired to take action to help others. 

In both of these cases, we have no idea of the backstory of those caught on tape (this seems to be the case with a lot of things we share). But we know, in those moments on screen, we saw the best and the worst in humanity. Isn't it our responsibility, and frankly our privilege, with all of the technology at our fingertips, to share only the best of what we see in others? Technology has its place in tracking down bad guys, but it's not for social media acquaintances to play judge, jury, and hangman. 

As a parent teaching my kid about sharing, I feel compelled to point out what works and doesn't. When it comes to offline sharing, sharing a kind word is right, but tattling is wrong. I think this should apply to what we share online as well.

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