What’s the future of today?
At the “Future of Digital Frailty” forum at the Future of Today Summit, Jon Ronson and WNYC’s Manoush Zomorodi discussed public shaming on social media, along with the ethical and social ramifications of fake news. Ronson, the author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, used the Twitter takedown of Justine Sacco, the former global head of IAC, as the catalytic start of new world shaming. In December 2013, before boarding a plane to Cape Town, Sacco made the egregious mistake of tweeting:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
While Sacco slept through an 11-hour flight, her Twitter account blew up in what Ronson refers to as “righteous indignation” — Sacco’s tweet was an opportunity for a then new phenomenon: social media shaming.
Ronson described the reaction to Sacco’s tweet as a mix of faux outrage and mild entertainment. The larger issue being, and the purpose of the forum discussion, is the presumption of privacy that’s diminishing as social media and digital technology proliferates.
Is the NSA watching us? Will our racist, micro-aggressive tweets lead to a witch burning? For Ronson and Zomorodi, the issue is less the content of Sacco’s tweet, or any of our tweets, but the ways in which social media inspires a collective reaffirmation of righteousness, which reinforce the social thought bubbles that feeds our need to publicly shame.
“It is a return to the nobility of centrism.” — Ronson
Zomorodi related this centrism to the self-gratifying nature of public shaming, adding that “platforms [like Twitter] reinforce the need for external praise.”
External praise is the opposite of privacy, so the question now rests: If public shaming and centrism is the future, should we just give the NSA our iPhone pins now?