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social media shaming

Calling someone out in social media for their behavior, or perceived behavior, can have a powerful impact. The nature of social media makes it easy for acts to go "viral" and attract negative attention from thousands of condemners within minutes. Because attention attracts more attention on social media, the end result is often a public opinion whirlwind resulting in lost jobs, ended careers, and decimated reputations.

While social media shaming can correct wrongs and bring the guilty to justice, it can also destroy the lives of the innocent. Sometimes viral campaigns are targeted at the wrong people or taken out of context to make the subject appear to be doing something they are not. Social media shaming is also common when someone is making an attempt at humor and those who are offended assume the worst.

Social media shaming is especially dangerous because it fans the flames of two disturbing sides of human nature. When a community already has anger over injustice in society, a disturbing example pointed out by social media shaming can inflame passions that were already there. They aren't only mad about the acts of the shamed, but also past acts of others. The already outraged community then feels empowered by condemning the subject of the shaming on social media. They take their collective anger out on the shamed because they now have an identifiable target. This spreads the anger farther and faster, provoking repeated cycles of anger and condemnation. The subject of the social media shaming becomes a lightning rod for all the societal fury because of the perceived shameful act.

This is fine when the shamed person is worthy of that shame. For example, a police chief in Florida was forced to write himself a ticket for parking on the sidewalk when he was shamed on social media. The chief's department recently started ticketing citizens for doing the same thing. In this case the police chief did the right thing and justice was served. 

However, there are countless examples where people are shamed not for what they do, but for who they are. This includes shaming for what they look like, how they dress, or their personal preferences. This is where shaming overlaps with cyberbullying and cyberharassment. It becomes just another way to harm someone. Often a victim is shamed for something that is not illegal or even unethical. Adult sexting and revenge porn are examples of this. The people being shamed are hypocritically condemned by people who partake in the same behavior privately. Often the social media shaming falls somewhere in between. The subject of the shaming does something questionable but the reaction far exceeds the deed and ruins their life.     

The problem with social media shaming is that while social media is very good at spreading outrage, it is very bad at spreading facts. For example, if someone is accused of a particularly salacious deed, the shaming will be quick and vicious. If it is later proved that the truth is not what was initially spread, few will salivate at the details of the less exciting true version. In the end, all most people will remember is the social media shaming. The weak minded among us treat accusations as fact and fact as boring and irrelevant.

If you are tempted to shame others on social media, consider the consequences first. Is your criticism fair and are the accusations proven. Would you personally be able to withstand the scrutiny you intend to inflict? If not, it may be wise to refrain. Social media shaming can backfire if those doing the shaming are shamed themselves. That's what happened to Adria Richards after she social media shamed two men for an alleged sexual joke. She got one of them fired but ended up getting fired herself in a counter-shaming.   


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