I’d like to write about the phenomenon of public shaming, which is something that has always existed, but made so, so much worse by the online world we’re living in today.
I first started really thinking about this a couple years ago when I read the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” by Jon Ronson. The book goes over a few “case studies” in public shaming; it uses as examples a few people who each (semi-briefly) became targets of the internet hate machine that we are all familiar with. Many/most of them lost their careers, spent time in psychiatric facilities, or committed suicide after their perceived “offenses”.
A single example - in 2018 probably no one remembers this (as they shouldn’t), but one person profiled was Justine Sacco, who became a meme/infamous for a few news cycles after posting a slightly tasteless joke about AIDS on twitter while on a flight to Africa. When she landed, it had “gone viral” on a massive scale, she had already been doxxed (she posted anonymously), and hundreds of thousands of anonymous people felt the need to weigh in, sending her hateful messages and death threats and whatnot.
The pressure on her employer ended her career, she changed her name, and spent some years working in a non-English speaking country until the heat died down, so to speak.
Today, this happens all day, every day, thanks primarily to Facebook and Twitter. There’s a million examples of it. Frequently, people become targets for something un-likeable or ignorant they tweeted or posted many years ago, when they were children or teenagers. I’m lucky I’m old enough not to have had a Twitter when I was a teenager and I’m sure many other people feel the same way.
I know personally how stressed I can get when 1 person calls me a dumb asshole on reddit, or whatever, and this is one reason I don’t even use most social media if I can avoid it. If I were unlucky enough to “go viral” in a negative way on this scale, I don’t think I’d be able to deal with it. There are several examples of people just straight up committing suicide after being targeted.
Sometimes people become targets for doing “actual bad things.” In my opinion, just like with the death penalty, it doesn’t matter what someone has done because the penalty is so severe, is always applied arbitrarily (did it go viral or not?), and because there is no recourse whatsoever.
Before the internet, this phenomenon was at least limited by how fast gossip could travel by word of mouth or how many people read a newspaper. Today, there are no constraints on how many people can target a previously unknown individual for doing something that society, or even a small faction of society, disagrees with. Just ask any of the women unlucky enough to be tangentially involved in “Gamergate.” Frequently there is massive collateral damage after someone gets doxxed as well, and family members, friends, or people unlucky enough to live at addresses associated with targets, all of these people will become targets as well.
This needs to stop, but personally I think there is no hope and it will only get worse. Thank you for reading.