A Metro bus operator in Washington, DC, took the train Friday morning to go to her next assignment. She would have usually eaten her breakfast at the next stop, but it was rush hour and the train was delayed; she didn’t want to keep customers at her next assignment waiting, so she decided to eat her breakfast on the train, her union representative said.
But what Natasha Tynes — a passenger on the train — saw was a public employee breaking the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s rule that doesn’t allow eating or drinking on Metro vehicles or at stations. So she decided to take a photo of the black Metro employee and report her to the WMATA on Twitter.
In the since-deleted tweet, Tynes wrote: “When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train. I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds.”
She added, “When I asked the employee about this, her response was ‘worry about yourself.’”
What happened next is a complicated, cautionary tale for those who impulsively use social media to expose behavior they deem inappropriate or unlawful.
Tynes, a Jordanian American social media strategist and writer, has potentially lost a book deal for her debut novel after her tweet sparked fierce backlash on social media from people accusing Tynes of being “anti-black,” “entitled,” and a “terrible person.”
And while the Metro employee will not be facing disciplinary action for eating on the train, she is “hurt and embarrassed” for being blasted on social media, Barry Hobson, a spokesperson for the Metro workers union, told BuzzFeed News Monday.
Hobson, the chief of staff for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said the WMATA’s general manager had assured the union Monday that the bus operator would not face any action for eating on the train.
A WMATA spokesperson said in a statement that it does not comment on personnel matters. “However, speaking generally, this kind of incident wouldn’t be expected to result in more than counseling for a first offense,” the spokesperson said.
But Hobson said that the operator — who has worked for the WMATA since 2001 — was unable to enjoy Mother’s Day weekend with her children after being “humiliated” by Tynes on social media. Instead, the operator spent Mother’s Day trying to respond to multiple people asking her about her photo that went viral on social media, he said.
The employee is not permitted to speak to the media per her union contract, but Hobson said he was speaking on her behalf.
“She has children that go to DC public schools,” Hobson said. “She’s very embarrassed and wishes [Tynes] had not done this.”
Hobson added that the operator would have usually followed the rules and not eaten on the train. However, she was aware of an email that Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik had sent May 8 — just two days before Tynes' tweet — ordering transit officers to “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations in the District of Columbia for fare evasion; eating; drinking; spitting, and playing musical instruments without headphones until further advised.”
“Understanding this email, our operator clearly was doing no wrong,” the Metro workers union said in a statement.
In its statement, the Metro workers union said riders like Tynes were often unaware of working conditions that operators endured during their assignments.
Operators have an average of 20 minutes to eat and get to their next access point to ensure buses and trains are on time, according to the union. Most operators do not have a sanitary place to have their meals due to rodents and insects in the system and a lack of break rooms at some stations, the union added.
Hobson said that the operator ate her breakfast on the train because she was focused on “serving her customers in a timely manner.”
After the furor over her tweet, Tynes deleted it and issued an apology. She later deactivated her Twitter account and took down her personal website.
She did not respond to requests for comment.
Tynes, a communications officer for the World Bank Group, described herself as a "social media maven with over 8000 followers on Twitter" on her LinkedIn page.
Tynes left Jordan around 14 years ago to live in the US and spent nearly four years writing her debut novel, They Called Me Wyatt, which was set to publish in June, according to a 2018 interview in the Jordan Times.
"My novel is based on my life in the United States and Jordan, and is about being a woman in the Middle East,” Tynes told the Times.
On Friday, Rare Birds Books, a publishing house that was set to distribute the novel, announced that it had canceled the book's distribution and urged the publisher to cancel its publication altogether.
In a statement, Rare Birds Books said Tynes “did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train this morning and drawing attention to her employer.”
“Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies,” the statement added. “We think this is unacceptable and have no desire to be involved with anyone who thinks it’s acceptable to jeopardize a person’s safety and employment in this way.”
The next day, Tynes’ publisher, California Coldblood Books, announced that it was stopping all shipments of her novel from the warehouse and postponing the book’s publication date “while we further discuss appropriate next steps to officially cancel the book’s publication.”
“We do not condone her actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systemic racism the most and that we have to be allies, not oppressors," the publisher said in a statement.
Hobson said the Metro employee has not expressed any sentiments about Tynes’ professional downfall after her tweets.
He added that the Metro worker wishes that Tynes had used “common courtesy” and followed protocol in reporting her actions to the WMATA instead of “deciding to blast an employee in public.”
“[Tynes] tried this matter in the court of public opinion and the verdict is not going in her favor,” Hobson said.
A lot of the criticism around Tynes focused on the fact that despite modeling her career as a minority writer, she was threatening a black woman’s livelihood.
However, some people came to her defense and accused Twitter bullies of "digitally lynching" Tynes and ruining her career.