Why “Chair Girl” Marcella Zoia’s Sentence Could Come Down To Social Media

Photo: Courtesy of Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images.
UPDATE: "Chair Girl" Marcella Zoia's sentencing for mischief endangering life has been postponed until March 12. Justice Mara Greene told the court she needs time to make her decision, according to CTV. Both the crown and the defence presented their arguments, and Zoia read a statement. “I’m sorry..I never intended to hurt anybody and I know this was a very immature and selfish mistake...I have a lot of work to do I want to improve my life..I’m aware that someone could have been hurt or I could have caused an accident.”
Original story follows.
Last month, as Marcella Zoia — aka “Chair Girl” — left court, the reporters gathered outside of Toronto’s Old City Hall had one question for the now-infamous furniture hurler. It wasn’t “Did you throw the chair?” (Zoia, who, yes, threw a chair off a 45th-floor balcony into oncoming traffic, pleaded guilty to mischief endangering life back in November). But rather, “Did you post that video?” As in this video. As in the 10 seconds of, yes, absolutely terrible judgment that turned a previously unknown dental student/bottle girl into Canada’s Most Wanted. And may now play a role in determining whether or not she winds up in jail.
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ICYMI: Zoia’s sentencing was supposed to happen on January 14, but was delayed by over three weeks because the prosecution and defence couldn’t agree on how the chair-throwing footage found its way onto the Internet. Whether Zoia, now 20, is the one who posted it to her Snapchat account (as the prosecution asserts) or whether someone else did (per the defence) is a dispute that will be ruled on today, as the two sides reunite in court. Whether it should matter in determining the severity of her sentencing is another story.
According to the Toronto Star, the Crown, who is seeking a six-month jail sentence, wants to demonstrate that Zoia posted the video intentionally seeking attention. “They want to say she did it for social media, and that that makes it worse,” Zoia’s lawyer Greg Leslie tells Refinery29. He says his client’s post-offence conduct (i.e, a bunch of sexy pictures on Insta) will be presented as further proof of her fame-seeking agenda, her desire to leverage her Chair Girl fame for profit, her quest for the blue “verified” checkmark, at any cost.
Which is, to be fair, a not-implausible interpretation of the facts. (Zoia is an aspiring Instagram model whose career is attached to her social media presence). But just for the sake of argument, here’s another one: Nineteen-year-old commits illegal and incredibly stupid stunt, and because it is (or it was) 2019, the prank winds up on social media. Maybe she put it there, maybe her friend did. Clearly nobody was exercising great judgment at the time — a woman threw a chair into oncoming traffic! But isn’t it possible that what happened on the balcony was a not part of a plot to become the next Kim Kardashian? 
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“From a legal standpoint, what’s interesting is the way that posting to social media is being wrapped up in her mens rea [the intention that motivated the criminal act],” says Toronto criminal lawyer Astrid Mrkich, who is not involved in the case. It’s the difference, she explains, between doing something illegal and then putting it on social media versus the posting to social media having been baked into the illegal act. “For a lot of young people today, posting something on social media is arguably just an extension of living in the world. So maybe [Zoia] didn’t even delineate between throwing the chair and posting it, but our legal system does.”
Which means, for now at least, Generation Insta maybe at a legal disadvantage.“If it was a 40-year-old dude laughing about a crime [after the fact] with his buddies, the court would be none the wiser,” adds Alison Craig, another Toronto criminal lawyer (also not involved in the case), who agrees that we may be looking at what amounts to a generational divide. “Us old fogies see [Zoia’s video] and think, the only reason she would do that is because she’s proud of it, she wanted everyone to see it. But when you think that this is just a part of their lifestyle, it probably does need more context.”
Unfounded assumptions about young people, particularly young women, on the internet have informed the Chair Girl narrative from the start. Yes, there was the initial (and totally appropriate) shock and horror around the actual crime. But when you look the discussion around Zoia that continues to trend, it seems that just as shocking and horrifying as the Chair is the Girl: young, and blond and — here’s the clincher — inclined to pose seductively on the Internet. "This is what people want to see her punished for — our society likes to police women on the internet,” says criminal lawyer Angela Chaisson. “But it’s not the way our courts work.”
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How this will all play out in court for Zoia remains to be seen. All of the above notwithstanding, there are legitimate reasons why presiding Justice Mara Greene could view social media as an aggravating factor. Sentencing is about the crime in question, but it is also about public safety. The discouraging of copycats has become all the more relevant in an era where criminal activity can go viral along with dance trends — sometimes both at the same time, as was the case with the 2018 Keke Challenge, where people got out of moving vehicles to dance on the hoods of their cars.
With the Zoia case though, nobody is copying her crime. It’s true that endangering public safety for the purposes of Insta fame is also illegal (and absolutely a thing now), but unless the Crown can prove otherwise, any assumptions around her motivation are exactly that.
Chair Girl may not deserve a blue tick, but she does deserve the presumption of innocence.
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