West Elm Caleb Doesn’t Deserve All This Internet Hate


Caleb Hunter is having a bad week.

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Precisely why is somewhat complicated. Starting on Monday, several women have posted TikToks about dating Hunter, a 25-year-old furniture designer at West Elm. Judging by what they’ve said, Hunter does seem like a bit of a cad: He went out with many women at the same time. He recycled the same flirty lines. He abruptly stopped talking to his dates when his interest waned–that is, he ghosted them. He lied, several women say, about which dating apps he used and whether he was seeing multiple people. Kate Glavan, 23, was one of Hunter’s erstwhile romances. In a TikTok about him, she states her feelings bluntly: “I don’t give a f—k if this man lives or dies if I’m going to be honest.” Some of the TikToks included information about where Hunter went to school and where he lives, providing a rough roadmap to tracking him down (online at least, if not in person). The videos have attracted a widening audience on TikTok: #WestElmCaleb has attracted 26 million views since Monday, 40% of them just in the past 12 hours or so–videos from Glavan and the other women who’ve dated Hunter, then many, many, many subsequent TikToks about those original videos. 

The response has mushroomed enough for Glavan to reconsider whether this is a good thing. “I don’t like how it’s gone viral in the way that it has,” she says when Forbes reaches her Thursday evening. “He’s kind of being put on trial in front of a mob. And the mob is only taking information off TikTok.”

It’s spread beyond TikTok, though. On Twitter, users have traded several hundred tweets about him per hour at various points in the week. The discourse has spilled over onto Facebook, Instagram, even LinkedIn. The Daily Mail, E! and the Today show’s website have all covered the social media reaction to him. One company, a home-furnishings startup called Ruggable, ran an ad on TikTok directly referencing the app’s obsession with him. 

Given all this content, Glavan’s pretty clearly right. Hunter may be a boor, but no, he doesn’t really deserve this much internet hate. Nonetheless, these sharpened pitchforks carry us off to a longstanding discussion about the web, about what constitutes harassment here and what platforms like TikTok should do to police it.

TikTok does have rules against this sort of thing. They’re right there in the app’s terms of service, Section 5, bullet 10: users “may not intimidate or harass another.” Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have similar standards written out. It’s not really a surprise that none of the rules have been applied to save Hunter. The social media networks struggle to enforce their standards, particularly in mushrooming situations involving more nuance than removing a clear-cut statement inciting violence, like something a terrorist might write. None of these companies returned a request to comment, and none appear to have taken any action to limit the campaign against Hunter.

The talk about Hunter is reminiscent of the complexities surrounding the Shitty Media Men list, an anonymous crowdsourced document that circulated around the internet a few years ago, prompting some firings and cancellations. Now, Hunter isn’t being accused of what many of those men were. (Though it doesn’t take much to read the subtext around the Hunter videos: If we know he acts like a jerk, what else has he done?) But today’s conversation about Hunter has the same problem that Shitty Media Men did: presumed guilt without much chance for defense.

Yet Shitty Media Men could justify its existence in a factor completely lacking in Hunter’s case. Many of those men were grand poobahs in famously grand media companies: To some extent, they were public figures, and Shitty Media Men possessed a newsworthy quality to it. By contrast, there’s nothing newsworthy about Hunter. 

Hunter’s situation feels like an absurdist extension of what has become a popular internet pastime while we’ve been stuck home during the pandemic: punishing people whose bad behavior has been recorded and shared online. But Hunter didn’t walk into a grocery store maskless during the pandemic’s height. He didn’t make racist comments to his classmates. He didn’t film a TikTok joking about hitting his kids. Regardless, though, we’re grown so hungry for this type of content that a guy with bad dating habits has become social media’s latest villain in a matter of days.

Future consequences for Hunter are a little hard to predict, and he’s not around to speculate about it either. (He couldn’t be reached to comment and has seemed to delete all his social media profiles.) Will he be fired from West Elm? Quit out of sheer embarrassment? Will this affect his future employment status? Federal law would prohibit employers from officially using it as a reason to not hire him, but it is perfectly easy to envision a scenario where it unofficially is.

For recourse, Hunter has few options, largely because America has never adopted the online standard Europe did a few years ago: a legal right to be forgotten, where someone living in the European Union can formally petition search engines to remove links to content about them. “There’s plenty out there online that someone could consider scandalous or injurious to reputation,” says Chris Wolf, a digital privacy attorney and founder of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington D.C. think tank. “But we don’t have a right to be forgotten because of the First Amendment,” the part of Bill of Rights promising us free speech. “Google has First Amendment rights. And the individuals who use Google have First Amendment rights.” Hunter might sue the people who posted about him, citing an invasion of privacy and the damages they caused, though any such lawsuit would measure up as a longgg longshot. No matter what, he can’t sue TikTok or any of the other platforms. A nearly 25-year-old federal statute protects them from what their users post.

His best bet? It may be to hope Glavan is correct when she says, “We’re all going to forget about this.” And sooner than we’d think. “There’s going to be some like, stupid dance trend or dog video going viral over the weekend.”



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