August 5, 2015

In Condemnation of Public Shaming

ME 333 PublicShaming2

The risk of writing an extremely snarky or sarcastic post is that those who are not regular readers cannot be expected to recognize it as such. When it comes to certain topics, the real thing is almost impossible to distinguish from parody, satire, snark, or sarcasm. And so, I feel the need to preface this post by noting that its title accurately reflects my stance in a way that the non-italicized portion below does not.

Imagine that you are perusing one of your social media accounts one day when something truly awful happens. Someone who somehow managed to find his or her way into your group of Facebook friends or onto your Twitter timeline says something with which you disagree. But it is worse than that. Much worse. Not only do you disagree with what this person just said, but you experience strong negative feelings in response to it.

The time to act is now, and you do so swiftly by un-friending, unfollowing, and/or blocking the "offender." Never mind that there are some excellent reasons not to do this; your feelings must be protected at all costs. I mean, what kind of person would allow oneself to be exposed to ideas with which one might disagree and find potentially upsetting? A freethinker? Well, yes...but you are experiencing unpleasant feelings, and that is somehow more important than everything else. You deserve better!

So now you've un-friended, unfollowed, and/or blocked the person responsible for offending your various sensibilities, making sure to tell everyone publicly that you have done so. You feel justified in doing this because how you feel is all about what this person said and not about any of your own sensitivities. What's more, the feelings you experienced could not have happened because you misinterpreted anything. You do not make mistakes, after all.

Something is still wrong though. Somehow, un-friending, unfollowing, and/or blocking this person while announcing to the world that you have done so doesn't seem good enough. I mean, you've cut your meaningless electronic ties with this stranger but you find that this does not bring the satisfaction you thought it might. You are still mad. A greater punishment is needed. This person must be harmed in some way.

You decide that public shaming is the answer. Everyone must know what this person said, so you broadcast it to the world along with instructions for others to condemn or shun the "offender." Maybe you retweet the objectionable statements repeatedly. Maybe you capture the offending Facebook post so you can share it along with snarky commentary and calls to action. But here's the key - and this is very important - you are not doing any of this to obtain feedback from others about whether you might be overreacting, to provide an example of a larger point you are making, to offer social commentary or constructive criticism, or anything of the sort. No, you are doing this with the intent to harm on the person's reputation or status. You are meting out punishment here.

What sort of arrogance fuels your conviction that you have the right to judge this person and inflict your sentence upon him or her? That's easy! You are you, and this person offended you and/or hurt your feelings. Isn't that enough of a reason to attempt to harm his or her reputation? You are like Judge Dredd; you are the law.

Sure, others will call what you are doing vigilantism, cyber aggression, mob justice, or bullying. But you know better. You are entitled to inflict harm on others when they say things you do not like, especially if this leads you to experience negative feelings. Other people are worthy of dignity, respect, and kindness only as long as they agree with you and make you feel good about yourself. If they dare to disagree with you on something you consider important, this all goes out the window. The ends justify the means because all that really matters here is that you get others to bend to your will. If they won't, they may be destroyed.

I once thought that online public shaming was a tactic one would not find outside of those described as social justice warriors. Either I was wrong, things have changed, or both. I now see punitive public shaming involving intentional attempts to harm others' reputations or livelihoods everywhere I look. I believe there are better ways of dealing with ideas we do not like and those who express them. And so, I will continue to explore this line of thought until I have burned out or decided that it is no longer necessary.
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