Lentis/Social Media Shaming Campaigns
Online shaming is a type of public shaming with the goal of humiliating a person, group of people, or corporation. Public shaming has been a feature of societies throughout much of human history, and has now adapted to the modern age. It can be done over many mediums as long as it is done through the internet, this means it can use internet forums (e.g. Reddit or 4chan), or it can use local mediums (e.g. Texting or emailing). There are multiple methods that are currently seen, some of these include canceling, doxing, review bombing, and social status shaming. Controversies are arising over these campaigns looking into the loss of human rights that will inherently happen when a person is humiliated publicly. With these growing controversies and the lack of regulation on some of these forums there are questions of what the future holds for online shaming.
Shaming as a method of social change is prevalent throughout history due to its effectiveness. Historical examples of shaming include pillories, wearing unfavorable extensions (e.g. the shame flute, the letter A from The Scarlet Letter, etc.), and even forms of corporal punishment. Research has shown that even non-physical forms of shaming can have lifetime consequences to someone; including PTSD, paranoia, and anxiety. Physical pain and public shaming have been proven to have almost identical psychological effects. Left unattended, shaming campaigns against individuals or social groups can result in projections onto other groups or individuals, causing a collateral and cascading effect. This concept can be used to explain the rise of the Nazi party post World War I, as well as Confederate groups throughout southern USA post civil war.
In the advent of media, methods of communication expanded beyond in-person experience. People could become more easily and permanently influenced by credible individuals and social institutions of the time. Anonymity allowed both institutions and individuals to exhibit greater social control that could otherwise be shamed. One famous example of the intersection between anonymity and shaming is the beginning of the downfall of the KKK caused partially by the Superman radio show in the late 1940s, which revealed their secrets. Simply, individuals and institutions tend to be more careful with their words and actions when under the public eye. As the age of information dawned, the ability to hide one's identity became just as easy as openly sharing their opinion.
Shame is distinct from guilt. Shame is based around perception of how one is seen by others, even if the one feeling shame does not consider the action morally wrong. Guilt is an internal remorse at having done something one considers morally wrong, even if others are largely unaware of it. Shaming campaigns are similarly intended to: 1) influence public perception of the shamed, and 2) change the behavior of the shamed and, in this regard, are campaigns intended to invoke shame or guilt in the shamed.
Shame and guilt are generally only felt when three factors apply: 1) self-identity with a group 2) self-perceived transgression of in-group norms. 3) perception of these norms as valid. Women are quicker to feel shame than men, while adolescents feel shame more intensely than adults. In general, some people are more “shame-prone” while others are more “guilt-prone.” Severe shame and guilt can both be associated with depression and other mental illnesses. These factors can help explain why similar shaming campaigns may affect some individuals more intensely than others.
Several factors can influence how likely a subset of users of a social media website are to engage in a shaming campaign. These can include echo chambers, anonymity, and polarization, among others. These can contribute to spread and acceptance of biased or false information, from which shaming can occur.
A Pew Research survey found that 83% of respondents ignore political content posted by their friends that they disagree with, while 59% say that discussing politics on social media with someone that they disagree with is “stressful and frustrating” rather than “interesting and informative.” 39% of respondents say that they have modified settings to filter out posts from a specific user on their feed because of politics, with 60% of these saying that the reason is due to offensive political content. These statistics potentially indicate that users can experience an echo chamber effect through their own choices, even without the presence of algorithmic influence.
Algorithmic influence can cause filter bubbles. Eli Pariser, the activist and researcher who coined the term, argues that the closed-source nature of social media algorithms obscures how websites choose which content to display to users. The Filter Bubble Transparency Act is a proposed bipartisan bill to create algorithmic transparency.
Modern examples can fall into at at least two cases: Internet vigilantism and political/moral shaming.
Internet vigilantism can be further subdivided into two cases: 1) reminding the Internet of an incident widely believed to be negative and of who caused the incident, and 2) attempting to identify a perpetrator of a negative event who is not yet identified by authorities.
Some examples of case 1 include but are not limited to:
- Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who raped a woman, was shamed after serving only three months in jail as a result. Internet publicization of the crime and incident has contributed to his inability to get a job above entry level. It has also contributed to his becoming the “textbook definition” of a rapist.
- Martin Shkreli, a hedge fund manager, was shamed for several reasons including raising the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to over $750 per pill and making disparaging comments towards female reporters. His wealth has largely isolated him from consequences for these behaviors, although he has been suspended from Twitter. He has gone to jail for reasons unrelated to the shaming.
Some examples of case 2 include, but are not limited to:
- Sunil Tripathi, a college student, was shamed after being misidentified by Reddit as the Boston Bomber. His family publicized pictures of him after his disappearance (later found to be suicide). In response, they were harassed for seemingly protecting a terrorist.
- Peter Weinberg, a finance marketing executive, was doxed after being accused of being the Bethesda biker. At the time of the accusations, local police had already cleared him as a suspect.
Implications of Shaming Campaigns
Remnants of shame culture have stayed prevalent in societies either as a form of honor or fear. In western cultures, especially with more conservative ideologies, shaming is used as a familial builder. Shaming members of an in-group can create a stronger sense of community among members, and help an individual become less vulnerable to shaming from out-groups. Online shaming campaigns; however, exhibit the use of shame as a method of accusation, suppression, or aggression.
Ethics on minority perception are usually brought up by coexisting cultures. Online shaming has pros and cons that make it a nuanced subject. Although it is possible for shaming to cause a desired social outcome, such as comradery in western cultures, vilifying others does more harm than good. There are arguments for solving power inequalities with these campaigns. However, these arguments usually involve shaming an ideology, not a specific person. Shaming campaigns mentioned above that resulted in wrongful accusation and even suicide always involved shaming a specific person. Shaming is a powerful social tool that is included in the fundamental human right to speech, and can be effective at suppressing unethical actions and comments alike. Social institutions typically known for their overall good (e.g. universities, governments) have been successfully shamed to create social change without giving rise to anti shaming by criticizing specific actions rather than the institution itself.  Giving a voice to everyone allows oppression itself to be shamed. Others argue that without being in person, we are not guiding people to a new standard.
The future of these campaigns will be determined by future regulations. The U.N. Human Rights Campaign is already starting to look into regulations, releasing this statement “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.” With this there is belief that more governments will start looking into solutions to keep people safer from shaming campaigns. Some new systems that might be implemented include keeping a person's identity more private on these forums. This will allow for the people being shamed to not lose their entire life over the course of one of these events. Other schools of thought examines these campaigns and hopes to implement systems that rehabilitate as opposed to just shaming. The belief is that there is no benefit of fully excluding a person from society, and that these campaigns can be used to better society . Without data on these new systems it is unclear if either of these systems, or any other systems, could work when fully implemented.
Online shaming is an extension of numerous public humiliations that have been a part of societies over the ages. There are numerous philosophies that come from different societies in how shaming can be used within their population, and has varying affects on different cultures and subgroups within them. These campaigns are becoming more prevalent with more cases arising through the adoption of technology. Prominent figures such as politicians, and celebrities are being brought into these campaigns. As campaigns become bigger there is a call to find ways of keeping people safe, and implementing new systems in current online mediums.
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