The Risks of Public Shaming


There’s no denying how digital life has changed the way we live (and behave) today.


Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center recently canvassed stories from technology experts and scholars about the current and future impact of the Internet.

Experts were concerned about the way people’s online activities can undermine truth, foment distrust, jeopardize individuals’ well-being when it comes to physical and emotional health, enable trolls to weaken democracy and community, kill privacy, and open up larger social divisions as digital divides widen and more.

These same experts and scholars are quick to remind us of the many positive sides that technology has brought us.

“Digital life is being able to speak and see someone – regardless of where you are – on a phone you carry on your person.”

“I can get answers to questions about almost anything just by asking my telephone.”

“Digital tools enable people to invent or reinvent their lives and careers. They can also innovate through wide networking with people and information that allows them to develop businesses, find the perfect job, and meet soulmates, colleagues, new friends and fellow interest-sharers.”

The ugly-side of Shaming

With all this power at our finger-tips, we have slowly witnessed the corrosion of both online and offline civility among humanity.

Using public shaming to shift our beliefs rather than having constructive conversations has become the new normal. Are we now blurring the lines between activism and [cyber]bullying or humiliation?

Many people remember the public shaming of Justine Sacco or maybe Lindsey Stone that went viral and cost both women years of online reputational damage. People from all walks of life participated in vilifying these women—the majority never meet them or knew them, however with the click of a keypad, were able to ruin their lives.

We shame to pressure outliers to conform to our norms—even if no one can agree anymore what those standards should be.

“I think a lot of people resort to public shaming out of anger and frustration, the desire to call out bad behavior, and the need to feel validated for their emotions,” writes Christine Organ in an essay on shaming published on the blog Scary Mommy. “We feel justified in sharing that photo or video, entitled to call out the rude, crass, or inappropriate behavior… We’re doing the world a favor, thankyouverymuch.”