After a store posted a sign asking customers to report shoplifters, internet outrage ensued. A Twitter mob went on the attack, blasting the business for their alleged wrongs, causing the store to cave.
Oonagh Ryder was immediately outraged when she saw what a customer discovered in the tampon aisle of a Tesco store in Kensington, London. Ryder’s friend, Carl Cattermole, had noticed a sign posted by staff near the feminine hygiene products. Wanting to curtail shoplifters — a goal most would consider normal for a store — the store staff posted a sign, and Cattermole snapped a photo of it and sent it to Ryder.
“Help us build safer communities — report shoplifting to a member of staff,” the sign read, and that didn’t sit well with Carl Cattermole or Oonagh Ryder. Disgusted by the sign’s sentiments, Ryder took her disdain to social media. “Spotted by @HMPSurvival. We really need a genuine conversation as a society about what ‘safety’ means,” she wrote in the tweet.
With a photo of the sign accompanying her post, it wasn’t long before a Twitter mob formed and outrage ensued. The overall consensus by those who expressed their displeasure with the sign was that stealing tampons is “okay” since they “should be free” anyway.
“Signs like these encourage ordinary people to be suspicious and resentful toward their neighbors, rather than be angry about the root causes of someone needing to shoplift menstrual products,” Oonagh Ryder told BuzzFeed News. “The UK has very high levels of inequality due to the decisions of successive governments, with increasing numbers of people unable to afford basic necessities.”
Similar arguments have been expressed in the United States, and Ryder’s sentiments quickly caught fire and went viral around the world. “Shoplifting isn’t the problem,” one like-minded Twitter user responded. “It’s the fact that sanitary products aren’t free and accessible to those who menstruate.”
“If the government can offer free condoms, then they should offer free sanitary products,” another noted, and yet another added, “If I see someone stealing feminine hygiene products of all things from a huge chain supermarket, I’m minding my business…. and you should, too.”
“These products should be free,” another declared. “I’ma [sic] pretend I ain’t seen nothin’, ladies.” And, many, many others agreed, not only saying they would never turn someone in but also suggesting they might even help the thief with the crime. “I’m doing my part to build a safer community by knocking over a display on the other side of the store as a distraction when I see people stealing tampons,” one such user wrote, adding, “Go ahead, girl, get your friends some too.”
With the growing outrage, Tesco, a British grocery chain that operates in multiple countries, caved to the offended Twitter mob, apologizing for the sign and removing it. A company spokesman also alleged that the viral sign was placed “in error.”
“We know that the cost of buying essential sanitary products can be a real struggle for some, which is why we were the first retailer to cover the cost of the ‘tampon tax’ [also known as the ‘pink tax’] to make these items more affordable,” the Tesco spokesperson told Buzzfeed. “We want everyone to feel welcome in our stores and are very sorry for any offense caused.”
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long after this can of worms was opened that the list of necessities that should be “free” began to grow. “Okay another one, it breaks my heart to see that the baby formula is locked behind glass. Store attendant told me it’s because it gets stolen too often. People shouldn’t have to steal to feed their babies,” one Twitter user wrote. There were those, however, who saw an issue with the Twitter mob’s mentality.
What the angry mob seems to be forgetting is that the store also paid for the products they are selling. They didn’t get them for free. And, if they give away everything that someone else deems a necessity, they’ll be out of business or forced to raise prices for the customers whom they are simply asking to report shoplifters.
There are programs for those in need. The answer isn’t theft. And, if any of these people have an issue with others being unable to afford this particular necessity, they should try buying a box for someone in need — not offering to assist in or encouraging a crime. One can only wonder if their moral outrage ends when it requires opening their own wallet.