So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
- March 13, 2015
- 1 Comment
I stayed up later than I should have last night, reading Jon Ronson’s compelling new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. It is a very sympathetically drawn and yet often even-handed book which makes for riveting reading. In an odd way, reading about how social media has often gathered into mob mentality to destroy people like Justine Sacco (the Africa AIDS tweeter) was as much of a rubber-necking car crash moment as watching the actual ‘shamings’ happen the first time around. That probably says some disturbing things about my own psyche that I’m not sure I want to dwell on.
One of the most interesting theories which Ronson posits is that people who shame others on social media often do so out of the desire to do things ‘right’. I can understand that. I remember a story from a couple of years ago about a UK woman caught on camera stroking a cat and then dropping it into a nearby wheelie bin. As a cat lady myself, it was awful to watch. How dare she treat an animal that way?
However, when 4chan users banded together to find her true identity what ensued was nuts. There were Facebook pages calling for the death penalty and claims that she was ‘worse than Hitler’ (The Guardian). What she did was wrong, I’m not denying that. But thousands of people agreeing that she was worse than Hitler? Really? Social media – and all of us who may not even join in with such comments but certainly don’t do anything to stop them – blur the lines between justifiably condemning an action to acting as if it’s akin to the cold, vicious genocide of six million people. We band together to stop bullies by, well, becoming bullies.
Call out actions and words that you think are wrong by all means. But think carefully about how you do it. Nietsche was right: He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.