Public Shaming: Don’t Be on the Receiving End

Photo courtesy of Seth Woodworth via Flickr Creative Commons. Modified by Curiousmatic. 

What goes around comes around, and with the Internet involved, it can really pack a punch.

Public shaming — it can feel fun to be a part of, but only if you are the one doing the shaming.

The trend of exposing a person’s personal information online, opening a window for criticism and harassment, is a relatively new form of social punishment used against individuals who’ve demonstrated reprehensible behavior, whether on the internet or in real life.

The practice was popularized by Anonymous, a group of hacktivists that attack online information – either by making it unavailable to it’s intended users (often government, religious, or corporate websites) or widely publishing information as a sort of vigilante means of justice.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Some examples of public shaming include Anonymous’ hacking of the Westboro Baptist Church’s website, releasing the names and personal details online of every member in response to their plan to protest at the funerals of children killed in Sandy Hook. Also by Anonymous, the release of information about students involved in the gang rape of a young girl in Steubenville Ohio.

But the thing about public shaming is, it’s not just for professional hackers. The media has since followed suit: Gawker outed Reddit’s biggest troll, responsible for posting revealing pictures of underaged girls under the subreddit “Jailbait,” and Jezebel outed teens posting racist tweets after Obama’s reelection by screenshotting them online and even calling their school administrators.

It’s not just hackers and the media, though. Anyone can do it – for example, a woman on a train in May 2013 took a photo of a man who was boasting about his affairs with a friend, and published it to Facebook, where it quickly went viral.

The controversy

It has been argued that in most cases those being publicly shamed deserve it, and that this is a consequence is perfectly appropriate for socially deplorable actions. Other arguments state that public shaming does nothing to drive social progress, as a means to please the crowd rather than reform the wrongdoer.

At any rate, it is increasingly obvious that the internet, as a behemoth community, is not something anyone wants pitted against them. Shamed users may have to deal with backlash for a long time due to the permanency of the web. Then again, their actions made this possible.

Is virtual shaming an appropriate way to deal with reprehensible behavior? Or, is it a natural consequence in this virtual age that bad online (and real life) content is always open to?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter – Tweet us @curiousmatic, and open up the conversation.

Jennifer Markert