- Originally printed in issue #26 (December 2011) of Blue Skies Magazine.
- Buy a reprint of this issue.
The saying used to be, “If it’s not on video, it didn’t happen!” The saying now is clearly, “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.”
Social networking is, in my personal opinion, one of the best and one of the most fucked up things ever invented, and I can’t decide if it’s helping the world by bringing it closer together, or destroying it one post at a time.
There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone reading this has either heard of or been directly involved in the total annihilation of a relationship because of Facebook, MySpace, or some other social media site. It can turn the most innocent situation into what appears to be a torrid scandal, or simply air out a scandal for what it is, all depending on the picture posted or the words used. The truth is, if you’re stupid enough to allow pictures or video everyone shouldn’t see posted online, then you kind of get what you deserve.
If you post “fuck this person” or “that person is such a dick” without making sure they aren’t your “friend” on Facebook first, then once again you absolutely have it coming! Funny thing is, this isn’t the reason that I have a real problem with these sites. Those are actually a few of the reasons I love them!
The real problem I have with Facebook is that the powers that be have finally caught on. “They” are totally hip to the fact that on the whole, people are narcissistic idiots willing to hang themselves out to dry trying to look cool. I’m afraid that I, like most of the people reading this article have occasionally been one of those idiots, having posted the odd picture or random statement I wish I hadn’t. Consequently, I learned quite quickly and quite early where to draw the line. The problem now isn’t people hanging themselves out to dry, but someone else either accidentally or quite intentionally tossing their friends under the bus.
Recently, while flying loads at the drop zone, I was paid a friendly visit by a very nice member of the local FSDO office and badge-carrying representative of the FAA. She was stopping by the operation to perform her due diligence, in light of the FAA’s new policy of “higher visibility” in skydiving, and “ramping” me as the pilot in charge. Being ramped is kind of like being pulled over by the cops, only the FAA doesn’t need a reason to do it. You may not have done anything wrong, but they still want to see your license, registration and insurance, so to speak. Now I’ve always been very good about staying on top of all my paperwork as a pilot, and our aircraft were up to speed as well, so the ramp check went without incident. Without incident until she brought up Facebook, that is.
You may have noticed at the beginning of the previous paragraph that I referred to the FAA official as “very nice,” and the truth is she was. She was nice enough to let me in on the fact that her boss was, as she put it, “hot around the collar” over a number of pictures that he found on the drop zone’s Facebook page! She was even nice enough to slide behind the desk at manifest and show me exactly where these pictures were. I was breaking out in a cold sweat while she did, seeing that most of the photos in question were either of skydivers in or quite near clouds or aircraft performing flybys that didn’t exactly appear, in the strictest sense of the word, legal.
Now as I’m sure every jump pilot would agree, I would never EVER perform a maneuver in an aircraft not deemed completely legal, nor would I EVER allow a skydiver to maintain anything but the legal cloud clearance limits, but these fucking pictures didn’t make it look that way! It also didn’t help that in each and every one of the pictures, the pilot flying the aircraft was tagged in the photo. As cool as the photos were, if the FAA had decided to make a real issue out of it, things would have gotten very serious very fast. As it turned out, the photos were removed almost before the official’s feet were out the door, and no more of these shots have been put up…yet.
Think this is only an issue that pilots need to worry about? Think again. Just go talk to Steven Jackson. “Jacko” is a close friend and fellow instructor in the sport, with around 15,000 jumps and more skill than any one person deserves. He’s a talented freeflyer, great AFF instructor, and in my opinion probably the best tandem instructor on the planet. Even so, he not only lost all of his ratings for quite some time, but had to fly to the USPA Board Meeting in Reno to fight USPA and the manufacturers, face to face, to get them back. Why? All due to photos posted online of him flying tandems in a way they deemed inappropriate. Think it couldn’t happen to you? What pictures do you have up on your “love me” wall?
Facebook has, without a doubt, connected me to long lost friends and acquaintances I never would have seen or heard from again. It has opened doors and closed chapters in my life that would not have been possible without it, and in most ways it’s a tool I’m glad I have. Yet there is a very dangerous side to this very powerful tool. In our modern and very connected world, we don’t need Big Brother to watch over us, and why would we? We have twenty million little fucking cousins to do it for him!
Maybe that really sick shot of you on your head with a tandem will remain just a conversation starter and not turn into a USPA red flag. Chances are, the sunset shot of you flying the DZ Cessna really damn low over a hangar full of skydivers won’t amount to anything at all. What are the odds that the FAA gives a damn that there’s a wonderful picture of you straddling the tail of a Twin Otter? Probably pretty slim, but if they do care, and the tail number of that plane is in the shot…
The Fuckin' Pilot
About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.