Social Media: The Source of Public Shaming

The online world is emerging as the prominent source of our everyday life; from reading and writing, to texting and skyping. We have become reliant on social media, in which it grants us the unique ability of speaking freely, ranting gratuitously, and criticizing illimitably.

The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow. Bill Gates

What is the Internet? Well… as far-fetched, as that question is I will try to answer it. Imagine this, you enter a large auditorium with 3.92 billion people in it. Every person in that hall is speaking simultaneously in hope of leaving a remark on the few people that are listening. Suddenly, a bunch of people hear something they like, whether they find it funny, lame, sad, or even interesting, they therefore begin to share it to the person next to them, and like that word spreads. That hypothetical situation defines how a person becomes a victim in the world of social media, and may likely become the prey to public shaming.

What is public shaming? The Huffington Post defines public shaming as: “the dishonoring showcase of a person, usually an offender or a prisoner, especially in a public place.” Today, public shaming has been extended to the internet. A righteous, lawful, ethical person could easily become the victim of public shaming due to a silly decision they have made, a post they have shared, and/or even something as simple as a picture they have posted that is seen as inappropriate. For instance, as she was boarding her plane to South Africa Justine Sacco made some silly jokes and stereotypical comments about her flight and experience. From one retweet to another Sacco’s ludicrous comments blew up her social media account. As the New York Times Magazine puts it: “ One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.”

Remember the Bill Clinton affair with Monica Lewinsky? What people were not aware of is that while many of us were going online, laughing at, and criticizing them both for their actions, we were participating in the public shaming of both Clinton and Lewinsky. The famous incident left millions of people attacking Lewinsky for having an affair with the president. Thousands of derogatory comments, memes, and articles about Lewinsky were uploaded daily. News sites, online bloggers, and social media websites benefit from such stories, as they craft catchy titles, engaging story lines, and captivating twists in order to generate revenue- money made by the click of the mouse. Yet, many of us are unaware of the costs of our actions. Simply sharing, laughing, or commenting will make you a participant in the public shaming of the victim. Lewinsky has recently talked about her experience with public shaming on Ted. Public shaming has not only left her with the label of being a “slut,” but she has also been psychologically impacted by the power of millions of slanderous comments,

This is a Ted Monica Lewinsky did years after her experience with public shaming. She discusses the impacts of public shaming, as well as the lingering effects it left on her.

How does public shaming affect people psychologically? Public shaming is driven by the need to be a part of a larger group. Psychologists have revealed that individuals use the Internet as a source of shaming because it allows them to speak freely with their identity hidden. The brilliant doctor, Neel Burton, has produced an article about the psychology behind public shaming on Psychology Today. His findings have revealed that social media allows people to feel a part of a group, and the “in-group typing” leads to people making irrational decisions, therefore producing vulgar comments. We enjoy feeling, as we are a part of something, therefore continue to pursue it regardless of the impacts it may have. This forms a mob that could cause detrimental affects. For instance, Amanda Todd, a young teen, did the silly mistake of sending naked pictures of herself to a guy during her teen years. The pictures were then leaked and sent online through the digital web. Soon enough, thousands of people began attacking her, forming the mob mentality. Everywhere she went people would find out about the story and begin attacking her once again. She then took her life away, in which she believed it was an easier alternative.

Jon Ronson talks about the mob mentality of public shaming in the following Ted.

Is there a way to protect and prevent yourself from participating in public shaming? The Internet is a large interconnected web of many online browsers. Once you post something on the Internet it will always be there. Therefore, be cautious of what you post, say, comment, or do on the Internet. Before saying something think about it once, twice, and a third time. Never post something that may insult someone else. Through that you can protect yourself from being publicly shamed. On the other hand, to protect yourself from participating in it be aware of what you like, comment on, or share on the Internet. Never take part of something that may insult another person. Be respectful, nice, sympathetic, and empathetic.

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