Public Shaming on Social Media


Public shaming and public humiliation have been around for a long time. It was used as a way to deter crime and actions seen as bad for the community. With the invention of social media, now anyone, anywhere can publicly ridicule or harass someone. Some people try to reason that cyber-bullying is an easily solvable problem, “Just turn off your computer.” But after being shamed online, that stigma sticks with you in real life, like you are wearing a scarlet letter.

Something as simple as a stupid joke that pushes the limits a bit too far, like the jokes in Justine Sacco’s tweets, can ruin your career. I think that since social media is a relatively new thing, people do not associate their professional identities with their social media identities. This leads to people saying things they would never say at their company, and when others realize that it does not reflect the company, these tweeters get hell for it. This is exactly what happened to Justine Sacco.

People can get harassed to the point of being scared for their own well-being, like with Referee John Higgins. One mistake, one bad call, and you never know what someone might do. By having so many people hate on the same person, for the same reason, your personal safety becomes at risk.

With how easy it is to share information and ideas on social media, things that happened a long time ago can be brought up at a moment’s notice. If social media were not a thing, I am sure that Monica Lewinsky would have just faded into obscurity, which she probably wanted for the longest time. After realizing that will not happen for her, she decided to take a stand against all the hate and shaming still targeted at her, and I think that was a smart move. If people are not going to back off online, then tell the story from your perspective.

Luckily, there are people who try to deter this cyber-bulling, like the Trollbusters. They not only seek out trolls, but they also provide support for those who have been cyber-bullied or harassed online.

I think that the only way social media can be made a more compassionate place is for the companies in charge of these social media sites to crack down and delete hateful comments. Unfortunately, this goes against free speech, so it is not a good solution. Also unfortunately, I see it as the only way harassment on social media will stop. Maybe a class on internet etiquette and the effects your tweets can have on other people could be helpful, if taught in middle school or high school, but it would not solve the problem completely.

People like feeling they are in the right. People enjoy sympathizing with others. That’s why it is so easy for a group of people to mercilessly berate someone online, especially someone like a referee. They think the call that the referee made was terrible, and when they see thousands of others that think the same thing, it is very easy to get swept up in a mob mentality. This is especially true online, where you do not see the consequences of your actions. It also makes social media feel rewarding for those who are mean, since they get more attention, followers, likes, and sympathizers who feel the same way.

One of my favorite Youtube channels, h3h3productions, makes videos calling out fake pranksters and explaining what is really happening online, with their own comedy entwined in their videos . The couple that make the videos, Ethan and Hila, said they had a real wake-up call when they ran into someone they just made a video about at DisneyWorld. They said they realized that they felt fine with making the video, but actually seeing the person in real life made them change the way they approach their videos now. They now realize that what they say online can actually effect the personal lives of people they are talking about (the whole video is insightful, but at 5:00 they talk about this specifically). I love them even more now for realizing their mistake, owning up to it, and for changing the way they do things, unlike other Youtubers, who have no shame in ruining peoples’ lives with slander and hate.