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.