Public-Shaming: Privacy and Paternalistic Issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the doors to a diverse amount of issues the entire world was not prepared to address. D. T. Max’s article “The Public-Shaming Pandemic” in The New Yorker highlights one of these many mysterious aspects of the virus. Public-shaming has heightened and intensified due to the combination of social media and the unknowingly, rapid spread of the coronavirus. Max highlights countless different situations around the globe where the first cases of the virus were recorded and spread. Furthermore, he focuses on social media “hate” the people who were first infected received. Throughout his examples, the public has finagled their way into finding the identity of the first infected through social media platforms. This puts a great emphasis on the issue of privacy and is the practice of shaming not respecting one’s autonomy. 

The issue of privacy, in regards to the pandemic, puts into question if an individual’s medical history should be kept private when it puts the health of many at risk. Some may say that the several instances in which high-level officials, such as New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio tweet, or an average person exposing patient information to the public is a utilitarian approach to fighting off the virus. The means of releasing patient information, where they work and/or where they have been in the past week or so, is to protect the general public in the hopes that those possibly exposed to the virus get tested and choose to quarantine. The public is putting the good health and safety of society first. However, the means of releasing such information fail to meet the ends when the consequences of the public using such information to bully those initially infected have huge detriments to that individual’s health. In Max’s article, he clearly illustrates that public-shaming is tremendously detrimental to an individual’s health when they are singled out to society. This may lead to the practice of shaming being paternalistic in society. 

Shaming constructs people’s behavior to fit societal norms; in the case of the pandemic fit public health policy and attempts to encourage certain behavior to avoid. With this definition, shaming makes out to be a paternalistic practice overriding choice by nearly forcing certain behaviors on society. This is then further enhanced with social media. Overall, this puts into question if the public-shaming of these individuals is justified. The ends of making their private information public do not meet the means and it fits the requirements for a paternalistic practice. With more control and not publicly-shaming an individual, the practice could turn less paternal while also being more effective; rather than leading to ruining a person’s life. However, can public-shaming actually be regulated to that point?

1 thought on “Public-Shaming: Privacy and Paternalistic Issues

  1. Harrison Pire

    Logan does a great job at analyzing the article and its key messages as well as recognizing the limitations and problems that arise when shaming online. I found it particularly interesting when Logan claims that shaming forces people to change their behavior in order to fit societal norms. Although I haven’t experienced this first hand, I’ve most definitely witnessed it through social media. Logan brings up an interesting question asking whether or not there is a way to “control” the information in order to not publicly humiliate someone. I believe there is. In the text, Mayor DeBlasio publicly tweeted the name of an individual who contracted Covid. His mistake was sending the tweet where people who live thousands of miles away can see. This “patient zero” was revealed for all to see. I think it would be more effective and would reduce the amount of “public shaming” if the announcement were to be sent to the citizens who live in a 100 mile radius (for example) of the Covid patient.

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