Category Archives: Pandemic Shaming

Cyber bullying covid edition

This week’s article deals with the ethics and efficacy of Covid-19 “public-shaming” through social media. The article presents two types of activity that might fall into this category. At one end of the spectrum is a tweet from New York mayor Bill DeBlasio, which provided the name of one of the first attested Covid cases in New York City, Lawrence Garbuz. The mayor’s stated purpose in the tweet was to inform the public of the case and facilitate contact tracing. Nonetheless, he was criticized for violating Garbuz’ privacy. 

At the other end of the spectrum are the majority of the anecdotes presented in the article. These describe social media activity that is specifically intended to harm the reputation of or cause mental anguish to the individual with Covid. This activity includes online harassment of the supposed “patient zeros” in Vietnam and Poland and later harassment of Garbuz and his wife. Much of this second type of activity is clearly either malicious or an attempt to vent frustration. It can’t solve the immediate problem in question, though it might, as the author mentions, compel others to behave more cautiously in the future. 

Though DeBlasio’s actions would seem to violate patient privacy, we might ask how any large scale contact tracing scheme could operate if it relied on voluntary disclosure alone. Tweeting the information clearly wasn’t the most effective or respectful way of communicating it, and a more tailored approach seems to be called for. Still, how much authority over disclosure should we give to individual patients? The second type of behavior seems inherently more objectionable, but can we really systematically restrain it or would we want to if we could? Posting social media critiques is not a violation of privacy rights as long as the person posting was not given that information in a privileged context. The danger of being subject to online attacks might prove to be a valuable deterrent especially to high profile individuals such as the social media influencers in the article or the former chief advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was recently forced to resign in part because of his violation of Covid regulations [see:]. 

It might be necessary to ask what privacy requirements we should insist upon in the publication of test results during a pandemic? Under the circumstances, allowing for someone to withhold information might pose a significant public health risk. Should we make an agreement to public disclosure a requirement given limited testing sources? Should we fully subsidize published tests but not tests whose results might be withheld? Finally, even though the anecdotes in the article demonstrate the serious damage that can result from public internet shaming, how much weight should we give to this in view of the opposite tendency of many, especially in this country, to deny the reality of Covid? Is forceful criticism of potentially dangerous behavior justified in an environment when people might otherwise be inclined to dismiss the problem altogether? 

The Sufferings of Patient Zero

As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, people around the globe were forced indoors and behind screens, creating an influx of social media participation. Along with the positives that quarantine may have brought in areas of time and leisure, it has also brought along various alterations to the life we have lived thus far. It is natural for people to want to attribute these sudden changes of isolation to someone, or something, but in certain cases, this attribution cannot be justified as nature. In Max’s article, “The Public Shaming Pandemic,” he tells the tale of the public shaming of a Polish gynecologist by the name of Dr. Rokita. Between the period of testing and receiving his results, Dr. Rokita did not preemptively quarantine, which I can personally understand, as it is logical to believe that it’s likely you wouldn’t be patient zero. In the face of a new style of life, it is unclear what measures of protection to take, and to expect someone to take the highest precaution without a clear understanding of the disease’s implications is excessive. When his results arrived, he volunteered to quarantine in a hospital setting to mitigate the effect he will have on his family. This act did not rectify his prior mistake of not quarantining in the period which he hadn’t received his results, and the surrounding polish community was unforgiving. Dr. Rokita committed suicide as a result of the communications he received. It’s unlikely that the mass hatred he received was not directly tied to personal motivations to make him more virtuous. It was preferred to offer blame than to centralize around recovery and progression from the outbreak. No one is more afflicted by the implications of the virus than he who first contracted it, and I perceive it as extremely irrational to virtually stone this man. I’d like to make the assumption that the level participation in this shaming has much to do with it being virtual, as the communications made do not have any immediately tangible consequences or implications.

Social Media Shaming and COVID-19

In this article by D.T. Max, the effects of social media on the lives and mental health of people in their real lives are detailed. With so many people being stuck at home with nothing but technology as their outlet, this article is extremely relevant. Technology has given people a source of entertainment, through increased shows to stream, and more connection to world news. That said, technology has also created an avenue for others to key-in on the lives of certain people, especially those in the public eye. This has proven to be more negative than positive due to social media users critiquing every detail in posts and actions of said people. Furthermore, critiquing such people during this pandemic makes no sense, because like everyone else, they are new to our new way of life, and learn about, COVID little-by-little, like every day. Max gives a great example of this when he talks about Dr. Rokita, a Polish physician who committed suicide because of public scrutiny regarding his actions, before even knowing he had the coronnavirus.

As Max details, the coronavirus was new to the world, and there were no cases in Poland. Upon getting tested for the virus, Dr. Rokita continued to engage in his routine activities because, like many people, he didn’t know much about it, and since there were no cases in Poland, he didn’t think he had it. Unfortunately, Dr. Rokita did have it, and he received extreme scrutiny from the public because of his “negligent” actions. When all was said and done, Dr. Rokita committed suicide because he could no longer bare the horrific treatment he and his family were receiving.

From this story, I believe that readers should take heed and when browsing through social media, be a little more forgiving for mistakes. People aren’t perfect, even when they’re trying to paint their lives as such on social media and everyone has to remember that in order to avoid overly shaming people for their mistakes, ESPECIALLY during this pandemic where people are still acclimating to our new way of life.

Public Shaming- The Internet and Cancel Culture

D. T. Max’s article, The Public Shaming Pandemic, talks on multiple stories ranging from Covid-19 victims to racist actions and our society using the internet to publicly shame others for their actions and circumstances. Shaming is not a new idea, as it has long been an accepted moral behavioral correction tool. Shaming is inherently not meant to be truly harmful, but instead is meant to correct negative moral behavior. Additionally, care ethics tell us how we should act in decision making and morality by using a relational approach to ethics and differs from many other approaches because of its consideration of emotions. It relies heavily on relationships among people, particularly individual relationships. Therefore, shaming is most effective when it comes from a close individual relationship, such as a parent or another individual that is respected.

The internet is a very powerful tool that has allowed for connections among people across the world at a much larger scale than was ever possible before. This is great for the spreading of information until it isn’t. It is just as easy for false information to be spread as it is for information that is reliable, and shocking hearsay tends to spread the fastest. Additionally, there is a certain amount of desensitization that comes with interacting behind a computer screen. It doesn’t feel as if a relationship is being formed- it is just you and your screen.

“Cancel culture”, which has become very popular on social media, is one recent way shaming has evolved to fit into our increasingly online society. Unfortunately, this form of shaming is much more permanent and detrimental overall. What was once meant to be a moral behavioral corrector has now become a platform for widespread rejection of a person often based off a single action. In my opinion, cancel culture is not really an effective method of shaming. As it is not a personal relationship, many do not care what random Facebook or Tiktok users are saying about them. Additionally, while often the shaming is warranted, if an individual is “cancelled”, does the reprimand they receive really do anything for them if they as an individual are no longer accepted by society?

Dr. Rokita

During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people quarantined, utilizing technology and social media more than ever. With so much more free time, shaming people on social media became easier, and the massive amounts of boredom made it more appealing. In my opinion, quarantine created a sort of pressure cooker of emotions. People wanted something to blame their isolation on, and with such increased use of social media, they were able to find countless different causes via technology. In Max’s article, “The Public Shaming Pandemic,” he touches on how public shaming on the Echo Dnia Website impacted a renowned gynecologist, Dr. Rokita. Before testing positive, Dr. Rokita carried on with his daily life, just like everyone else would have. Though I personally believe that he should have quarantined in the thirty hours between the initial tests and receiving the results, I can honestly understand why he didn’t. There were no known cases of COVID-19 in Poland at this time, so I assume he felt safe enough to partake in seemingly normal tasks. With such a new and novel pandemic, there were no set norms about living during a pandemic, so he just relied on old habits. After his test results were returned to him, he voluntarily quarantined in the hospital, ensuring that he did not put anyone in his family at risk. After his results, he did what he was supposed to do, but that was not enough to stop the public shaming. The hateful comments about his handling of COVID-19 eventually caused Dr. Rokita to commit suicide. If he had not committed suicide, would people have even given him a chance to learn from his mistakes? Or would he forever just be known as patient zero? Would people ever be able to focus on his professional and personal achievements, or would they always blame him for bringing COVID-19 to Poland? With this ending, it is impossible for people to justify public shaming as a way of teaching others what is right and wrong. People shamed him because they could, not because they wanted him to be a more virtuous person. Though the public shaming of Dr. Rokita did bring the community together, it also isolated him and his family, removing them from the community when they were the most fragile. In a time that people desperately needed to rely on others for support, public shaming further divided them, clearly doing more harm than good. This example shows the fragile balance between teaching and chastising, which is nearly impossible to maintain with peoples’ emotions running so high.

Twitter and Aristotle

In “The Public-Shaming Pandemic,” author D.T. Max provides a telling anecdote about an influencer who is publicly shamed on social media for engaging in unsafe COVID activities in Milan. The article uses this anecdote to extrapolate a broader narrative about digital shaming in the age of this crippling pandemic. Finally, Max utilizes these particular examples to examine public shaming in general in the age of social media. I was fully enthralled by this piece, as it plays to a notion that I have strong feelings about. In this new age of hyper-”wokeness,” the bar for social acceptance and tolerance seems to be exceedingly high. There seems to be a wave of retroactively shaming people on issues they have maybe evolved on for political expediency. I believe this to be a dangerous precedent on both practical and ideological grounds, and I feel that two strains of ethical thought are deeply pertinent within this issue: aristotelian habit ethics and its conflict with Kantian Deontology.

Essentially, the issue boils down to the fundamental nature of human growth. The central notion of many spiritual pursuits is that humans are incomplete or flawed in some way, and most spiritual paths provide guidance and comfort along the journey to that sought completion. However, in this “cancel-culture” we have created, we seem to be treading into dangerous territory of retroactively shaming individuals for things they have said many years ago. We seem to be implying that human growth is not an arduous and complex process, that it should happen overnight. The ethical issue I found most pertinent here is the concept of Aristotelian habit ethics, which essentially outlines that we are defined by our character, our character is defined by our habits, and our habits are influenced by our many experiences. The crux of this philosophy is to try to pursue eudaimonia, and over time and experience, overcoming bad habits and achieving this utopic state. This is a fundamentally good idea because it allows humans to grow and love and learn and function in society. It also shifts focus away from micro-aggressions to true threats to the social fabric. By legitimizing public shaming of individuals we disagree with or that offend us, we are building a generation of individuals that will not be able to sustain the harsh realities of human life. We cannot “cancel” a difficult teacher, an impatient boss, or disobedient children. We have to learn to be firm in our convictions but tolerant and also tenacious when it comes to viewpoints that pluck at our sensitivities. 

Of course, as with any rule, I believe there are exceptions. We must learn to exercise judgement as a collective in order to discern which notions are out of line with our cultural norms and must be called out, but even then, there are meaningful and more conducive ways to pursue reform than calling people out on social media. Deontologists would argue that reason plays the heavy role in this balance of judgement, but in my own personal experience, I have found this strain of action to not only be ineffective in convincing the aggressor of their mistake, but also harmful, as it may reinforce stereotypes or prejudices the aggressor already holds. Elected office, community organizing, military service, law enforcement service! These are meaningful ways to truly affect change in our most impassioned issues, in our most needing communities. Sending a tweet honestly does very little.

I became very introspective on reading this article, and it ignited a passion within me to ponder the reality of this issue. I wonder if people chose offense based on their personal feelings about an individual. In essence, would we be angered to the same degree if someone we appreciated or strongly supported also had similar skeletons in their closet? 

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. 

Social media, patient privacy and COVID-19

mass protection of citizens. Track and trace systems have also been linked to phones allowing the spread of the virus to be monitored and informing those who may have come into contact with something to stay at home. This proving to a slowed the spread of the virus, certainly in the UK. However, in order to obtain this information personal details must be shared to a database leading to potential issues surrounding ethics and privacy. Where is the line drawn between how much information is too much?

The critical issue that having and spreading this information causes is that it leads to blaming and shaming. It is in our nature to blame others for problems so that we ourselves can keep our moral compasses on track. Along with this and spoken about in the article is the potential for misidentification of the “perpetrator” leading to unnecessary hate being put onto those who did nothing wrong. Not only this, but social media acts as a shield to hide behind where you can make comments with no repercussions. Relating this to COVID-19 and the track and trace system it provides a perfect opportunity to know the areas in which someone has had COVID-19 allowing the door to be opened and hateful comments to come in. From an ethical perspective it is a fine line between protecting patient privacy whilst at the same time protecting those around us. How much information is worth giving up? The violation of patient privacy in the short term could protect many but in the longer term could it cause more harm? It is a very difficult line to balance on.

Personally, I believe that this mass spreading of information is useful to some degree if certain parts of information are protected such as name, job and any other identification details. When it comes to COVID-19 it is only important if they are positive or not. Nothing else. I do think that these systems are crucial in slowing the rates of COVID-19 but even so, breaking patient privacy is not worth the cause. Up until now we have dealt with other issues and kept patient information private so why does it now change? As with social media, it is a fine line of what is helpful and what is not. It is difficult to limit what goes on. It is harder to control. Is it worth risking long term issues to protect people in the short term? Is social media helpful as a means of protection? Should patient privacy ever be broken?

Fights on Facebook: Effective Moral Communication Online

D.T. Max’s piece about the harsh social side effects of COVID brings up questions about how moral duties and beliefs change when societies expand past the physical constraints of borders, and into the seemingly lawless realm of social media. Max details the stories of early COVID-19 patients around the world. Some of these individuals were frequent flyers, moving rapidly around the world, while others were seemingly low-risk for COVID, having never left the country. While they all battled COVID to varying degrees, each individual faced equally malicious attacks online, attacked by people for their “contribution” to the spread of COVID. These angry responses proved worse than the coronavirus for some people, in one instance it led a prominent Polish doctor to commit suicide. This phenomena of pandemic shaming relates to personal responsibility and morality over the Internet. The decontextualization that comes with social media can be a powerful tool for social change, but it can also be a veil that allows people to interact excessively and irresponsibly.

Strong personal ties play a vital role in moderating our use of shame and punishment with others. As shown with the virtue ethics approach, shaming others is meant to be an educational experience intended to help regulate moral behavior. This type of instruction requires an investment in the person being admonished, so the Aristotelian goals of shaming vanish when the personal connections do. 

The ethics of care argues that caring is essential to mortality, as it underlines the feelings and relationships that we deem to be important. Caring about others is part of what guides us in our moral actions. As our social interactions become increasingly decontextualized and distant, people turn to the broader reaches of social media as their sole source of contact with others. With this separation, COVID shaming has emerged as a way for strangers to vent and express their disappointment in another’s actions. This type of shaming becomes more of an attack of individual character, rather than a neutral experience meant to improve future behaviors.

As a society, our hope in controlling the pandemic lies in our ability to moderate our own moral actions, as well as to help guide those of others in the right direction. As our social network becomes increasingly remote, with both close friends and strangers, how can moral lessons be properly moderated online? How can public health officials spread important information and advise against bad behavior without unleashing a firestorm on a defenseless COVID patient? How will our shaming patterns developed during this pandemic persist in the future?

The Public-Shaming Pandemic: a Response

Max’s article in The New Yorker illuminates the many stories of people around the world who were shamed by the public, and sometimes even the government, who contracted Covid-19 or were presumed to have contracted it. The most prevalent way that people have been shamed has evolved over time from being held in the public square, to printed in the newspaper, to broadcasted on TV, and now to being publicized on the internet for the entire world to see. This has contributed to people publicly disparaging others in countries far away from their own and can be considered a part of “cancel culture.”

Shaming is beneficial and can be an effective tool for deterring negative behaviors when it is done by someone that the person being shamed, prior to the process of shaming, respects the authority and opinion of. Thus, it is most beneficial for the shamer to be someone close to the person being shamed and in the private sphere, as in the case of a parent saying they are disappointed in a child or a friend intervening in another friend’s destructive lifestyle through shame. It is for these reasons that shame in our culture has a strong basis in deontological philosophy, for it often is employed to evoke feelings of moral regret for one’s “wrong” actions. Cancel culture, in both the context of the pandemic and elsewhere, is the prime example of this because the public withdraws their support for objectionable behavior often in an extremely cruel manner.

All of this calls into the question of whether or not extremely public shame as seen on Twitter and Facebook, centered around Covid-19 actions or otherwise, is really a beneficial activity for people to engage in. While it may deter behavior for some, it could also have no effect because people may not care what random other people comment on the internet, or it could have worse implications such as suicides that Max mentioned in his article. Should an action continue if it works in some situations but is detrimental in others?