Deconstructive Criticism: The Inefficiency of Guilt Shaming

In his article, “The Public Shaming Pandemic,” T.D. Max makes the point that public shaming of individuals not behaving appropriately during the pandemic is both ethically wrong and an inefficient way to combat the spread of coronavirus. 

It can undoubtedly be frustrating for people who have lost loved ones or jobs due to the pandemic, or even those who have just given up any semblance of their “normal” lives in order to protect the safety of those around them, to witness other individuals behaving in a reckless manner that puts others in danger. It’s easy to understand why people obeying the COVID guidelines are quick to write an angry post on social media, attacking those who are not, but this form of public shaming often reaches dangerous extremes for those being attacked without causing any major improvements. 

The idea of shaming is not inherently unethical. The practice originated in the idea of educating those who have made mistakes so they can behave differently in the future. However, today’s shaming has taken a vastly different approach: the goal is typically to make people feel guilty for their actions. Instead of explaining to people why the actions they took were dangerous, the aim is essentially to destroy their reputations and ruin their lives. 

This type of shaming is in no way constructive: being targeted by millions on social media does not make people any more likely to follow the guidelines. If a person was already hesitant about wearing a mask, are some internet trolls telling them that they’re a terrible person really going to convince them otherwise? In most cases, the answer is no. 

The motives of this guilt-driven shaming are no secret. People understand that the embarrassment caused by being called out on a large social media platform can ruin the lives of those in question, and that this embarrassment doesn’t typically translate to a change in peoples’ actions or opinions on the issue. Continuing on the route of public shaming while understanding that it doesn’t accomplish any large-scale change is simply wasting time that we can’t afford to lose, with COVID cases in the US still reaching record-breaking numbers. 

If shaming isn’t an effective way to convince people to follow COVID guidelines, then what is? Perhaps people would respond better to policies such as fines for not complying with social distancing guidelines or mask mandates, or monetary incentives for those that do comply. Instead of taking social media to shame people into behaving safely, we must focus on how to contain the spread of the virus going forward instead of dwelling on people’s previous actions. 

One thought on “Deconstructive Criticism: The Inefficiency of Guilt Shaming

  1. Cassie Srb

    Leah makes many great points, including how social media has quickly evolved into a way for people to vent their frustrations and how it is not constructive towards the original goal of social shaming. For many, social media is their main form of interaction with other people during this time of isolation. I strongly agree with Leah’s point that many are very frustrated that they are sacrificing opportunities and changing their lifestyle just to see others not doing the same. How different would today be if we as a collective society had followed social distancing guidelines and listened to health officials? The diversity of moral reasoning in our country does not allow for this as there is a large range in what people value the most. While diversity of thought obviously has its benefits, it is not ideal for a pandemic. If the safety and health of others and oneself is not enough of an incentive, I agree with Leah that an incentive that is commonly valued by most, such as monetary compensation or a fine, might help bridge the gap between opposition in decision making.


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