This is the first episode of Overheard, a new mini-series on Pod-Tone 292.
Was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez really on the Columbia campus a month ago? Well, not exactly. In this first episode of the Overheard mini-series, Priya Chainani, CC ’24, tells us what really happened on Feb. 26. Through her story, we dive into how social media distorts our perception of other people’s lives and how these interactions fool us and leave us feeling left out.
[Avery Reed]: Hey! I’m Avery, and you’re listening to the all-new Spectator podcast: Overheard. This series is a space for students to share snippets from college life and beyond. Hearing personal stories is especially crucial right now, as the pandemic has disrupted so many of our communal storytelling spaces. This podcast will serve as an alternative to that 3 a.m. after-party conversation, the stress-induced heart-to-heart, or the lunchtime story on Low that leaves everyone in tears of laughter.
Today, I’m taking you back to 3:21 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 26. I was sitting in the Diana Center grinding out a paper. I checked my phone, then BAM, it hit me. The illustrious AOC was on campus, and I’d missed her. Well, that’s what I thought. I’ll let Priya Chainani, CC class of 2024, take it from here.
[Priya Chainani]: OK, so here’s the actual story. So it was one of those days where it was sort of nice out, the sun came out, everybody runs to Low. Everyone’s hanging out on Low. It’s normal. People are eating. This was also the same day you had the grad students striking. So me and my friends, we just had lunch, we’re hanging out, we’re watching the strike, some time passes, and a woman comes up to us with doughnuts. And she says, “Do any of you want a doughnut?” And we’re all like, “Yeah,” so we all take a doughnut. And she goes, “These are actually from AOC.” And she also hands us these purple pins that say AOC’s name on it. And she’s like, “There. ‘She sends these. She supports the cause.’ Blah, blah, blah.” So I was like, “I have to post this on Instagram.” So I took a picture of all of us, and I put it on my story and the caption read, “AOC gave us doughnuts and called us sexy.” And everyone’s holding up the pin. It’s a great Instagram story, post. And fine, I close my phone, we’re just hanging out, and all of a sudden, I get a text. And it’s one of my friends, and he says, “Holy shit! I was taking a midterm. Did I miss AOC? Where is she?” It’s kind of like a panic. And I thought it was funny. I was like, “Yeah, you just missed her. She just left.”
And, all of a sudden, I start getting more texts; people are responding on Instagram. And then two of my friends were sitting a little closer to the strike. And they had also gotten pins. And they come up to us, and they both go, “Where’s AOC? We got doughnuts, we got pins. Where is she?” And I was like, “Oh my God, she was just here. She handed us the doughnuts and she had to leave. She’s in a rush. And she left.” And one of my friends goes, “Oh my God, I thought I heard her speak; she was right here. And I thought it was her but I didn’t think it was actually her. So I just sat there.” So I was like, “Oh my God, she just fell for it. We can keep going with this.”
So the people we were with, at the time, all of us had decided we’d all repost it on Instagram. And we decided, “Let’s keep this going; we can sell the story.” And we keep going; I go back to my room. And as I’m walking to my room, more phone calls, more text messages, more Instagram replies, and it’s getting to be quite a lot. So I go to my room. And then some of the people who post on Instagram are also living on my floor, and we kind of had a huddle. And we were like, “Yeah, this is getting to be a lot.” And one of them says, “I can’t lie,” and she tells one of the people who responded on her Instagram story that it’s a rumor. And so I was like, “I can’t face that kind of shame. I can’t tell people I lied on my Instagram story.” So one by one, I’m getting 18, 19, 20, 21, all these messages on Instagram. So I decided, let me disable story replies, stop responding. I deleted Instagram.
And then I get a text. Kind of an intense text, and this is kind of what all the messages were like, but this one hit hard. And the message reads: “PRIYA WTF? (All capitals by the way). You saw AOC? Goddamn! Or am I being gullible? You little bitch. You are lying to me, and you wonder why people try to dull your sparkle.” And I think this one was the one that hit because I was like, “I can’t keep this going. People are angry with me. And this is kind of a big thing to joke about. AOC is big.” So at a certain point, I was like, “Let me just turn my phone off. Let me ignore people, let me hide in my room for a little bit.” And I think as the day went on, the guilt hit me. And I think what happened was one of the people who had reposted it—it wasn’t me—had started to tell others that it was a rumor, and it started to fizzle out.
But officially, you heard it here first, AOC was never on campus.
[Avery]: First of all, thank you for the transparency, Priya. I’m sorry to anyone who may have thought they saw AOC. On Feb. 26, she was actually in Texas working to raise $5 million for the winter storm relief and not on campus handing out doughnuts.
But based on the reactions to Priya’s post, it didn’t matter what AOC was doing or where she was. What mattered was that people had missed her. They saw what Priya had experienced and wished to have experienced the same thing. Some people even pretended that they had. Our social media profiles often serve as a means to show other people what they’re missing. In reality, Priya’s post didn’t show what she was doing, it showed others what they had missed.
Those of us who use Instagram are surrounded by less explicit versions of this experience every time we open the app. If I’m stuck inside writing a midterm paper and I pick up my phone to see my friends laying outside in the sun, of course I’ll feel some type of FOMO. As we like, comment, and scroll, observing the self-curated profiles of other people, we’re constantly reminded of what we’re missing. It’s exhausting on both ends. So why do we keep doing it?
Thanks for joining me on the pod today! If you have a story or a funny moment to share on an episode, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you! Stay tuned for the next episode of Overheard!
Produced by Sam Hyman
Music by Maxwell Lu
Check out the latest episode of our other podcast, The Ear.