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.