Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in the circulation of social media posts that publicly narrate some sort of offense or wrongdoing by a private person, whose name and photo are typically included (even tagged) in the post. Usually, the one posting is the person who was offended, and in all fairness, it’s often the case that the offense was truly heinous or admittedly unethical. For example, the posts featured the following:
- A person who physically assaulted (e.g. slapped, hit, kicked) another person in public
- A student holding up a sign showing curse words for a public official
- A person who spread demeaning, accusatory rumors about an innocent individual
- A person indignantly (even arrogantly) refusing to pay their sizable financial debts, long past due
- A person who constantly lied to and cheated on their romantic partner
- A person who left insulting and discriminatory comments about a group of people on another post
The posts typically go on to have thousands of reactions, shares, and comments, mostly sympathetic to the one offended while shaming or attacking the offender. Now, some of the above may obviously be tantamount to an actual criminal or at least civil offense, punishable by law and all that. Others are interpersonal conflicts by nature. My question is this: Is our public posting and viral sharing of the names and photos of the offenders in all of the above cases justified? Maybe it doesn’t differ much from the practice of having the names and faces of suspected/convicted criminals featured on the news, yes?
As a society, we do have a collective responsibility to see to it that our members abide by the law and our norms for what is acceptable conduct. And with the advent of social media, new ways of enforcing these laws and norms are emerging. It’s so easy now more than ever to shape the behavior we want from other people, and to deter unwanted behavior, simply with the click of a button. And for all we know, maybe social media shaming is effective in shaping this society’s members to be kinder, more polite individuals who think twice about doing wrong against their fellowmen.
The threat of shaming via social media is very real, and has the potential to kill one’s reputation and ruin one’s future prospects in an instant. It’s like public stoning gone digital. The offending person doesn’t get killed, but his/her reputation sure does. And we might say it’s only just that they meet such fate; if they didn’t want to be shamed, then maybe they shouldn’t have done the wrong things they did. We have a wealth of expressions that reflect how accepting we are of such reasoning as a society: “They’ve made their bed, now they must sleep in it.” “Karma is a bitch.” “Give them a taste of their own medicine.”
On the other hand, I can’t help but ask about the other side of the coin. There’s this quote from an actor in Hamilton: An American Musical that goes:
“All of us are more than one thing…If that’s all you’re looking at—our worst act on our worst day, any one of us could be painted as a villain. It’s really about the totality of someone.” ~ Leslie Odom
This has forced me to think whether in shaming someone in social media—even though we feel the offense they committed might’ve deserved it—we are forever declaring the person as the villain, with no other redeemable aspect, no hope for the future. I feel conflicted in asking this, for I might just be getting to consider this because I wasn’t the one offended in the way the people who posted were. I didn’t go through the kind of pain they did. So really, who am I to say what should and shouldn’t be done in such cases?
Maybe, as in most dilemmas, the right way to go has to be decided by each individual, depending on their own values and moral standards. This is why I must leave you to decide for yourself, then—social media shaming: go, or no?
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