The Dangers and the Value of Online Shaming

My initial reaction when reading “The Public Shaming Pandemic” was one that entirely rejected the use of shaming on social media. I was particularly horrified by the story of Wojeciech Rokita and his experience with public shaming. Rokita is not thought to have spread COVID-19 to anyone, but while he was voluntarily confined in a hospital recovering from COVID-19, he and his family were brutally ridiculed and attacked on social media for contributing to the spread of the disease. Rokitia committed suicide and his family struggled to find a funeral home that was willing to take his body while people online continued to ridicule him. What happened to Rokita illuminates the dangers of public shaming and the extreme toll it can have on the mental health and lives of those that are shamed. Public shaming on social media and so called “cancel culture” has an extra layer of brutality that would most likely not be an issue if it weren’t for the anonymity and lack of censorship that social media provides. Anonymity and lack of censorship places those online in a position of power they would not have if a confrontation or shaming was occurring face-to-face. As one of millions of social media users characterized by blurry profile pictures, people can easily join in on a bandwagon of hate without being held accountable for their words. One tweet or comment in a stream of thousands can be easily overlooked unless, of course, you are the person being ridiculed. 

However, I struggle to fully condemn the act of shaming. Many do not need the power of anonymity or freedom of speech that social media provides to make their voices heard. For example, Mayor Bill de Blasio as a man already in a position of privilege and power had several options available to him (including simply reaching out to the Garbuz family to ask them to responsibly quarantine) that were not as extreme as tweeting out the name of a local man with COVID-19 along with the name of the law-firm where he worked and the names of the schools his daughters attended. On the other hand, some people or groups are in need of the power that social media can provide. The largest examples of this are the uses of social media by the Black Lives Matter and the #Me Too movements. On social media, Black citizens were able to use social media to release and spread videos of horrific police brutality and demand justice. Women were able to condemn and expose their often rich, famous, and powerful sexual assaulters. We cannot allow shaming on social media to be entirely eradicated as many need it to receive justice against those more powerful who have wronged them. However, we must also not allow social media to turn into a platform for senseless and nameless bullying. 

2 thoughts on “The Dangers and the Value of Online Shaming

  1. Jess Ferguson

    I think that Amelia’s point of online shaming’s ability to bring people together adds an interesting layer of complexity to this topic. Though online shaming is toxic, is the collective support that can come from it worth the pain? From a virtue ethics perspective, feelings are more social, so shaming is a way to remind others about the norms of the community. The individuals that were participating in the online shaming may have been doing so because they wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger, reminding them that they are not alone while quarantining. They were able to blame the abrupt uprooting of their major norms on someone, so they came together as a community to shame Dr. Rokita. Because of this, I do not think that the individuals participating in the online shaming were actually doing it from a virtuous place. They did not want to teach him or his family but instead wanted to band together to guilt them into exile. This creates a fragile balance between online shaming forming or breaking a community. I believe that the need for this balance is perfectly described by Amelia: shaming can be both good and bad, so we need to find ways to control it. Sometimes it is very necessary and beneficial, while other times it is more vicious. With so many pros and cons, it is challenging to find a way to regulate the shaming and ensure that it does not just become bullying. Overall, it is a difficult subject to navigate, but I think that having open discussions like these are the first step towards finding a more stable balance.

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  2. Robel Betre

    I agree wholeheartedly with the ideology of good shaming, but I think that the events you cited and the shaming that led to the death of Mr. Rokita are fundamentally different. Using social media as a tool to unearth the infrastructural inequities and bring light to the actions of those who have committed intentional malicious acts should be more justified than the critique of Dr. Rokita. It makes sense to recognize the benefits of a moderately measured level of “shaming” or “critique”. I think these situations upon which this shame or critique is cast should also be deserving of the degree of criticism dealt out. The severity of Dr. Rokita’s transgressions against the community can definitely be debated. I say all this to say that, in moderation, criticism can be a healthy benefactor to society, but if used deplorably like in the case of the article, the scales of its usefulness are drastically reduced, and it becomes malicious.

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