Category Archives: Pandemic Shaming

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?

Deconstructive Criticism: The Inefficiency of Guilt Shaming

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. 

The Crippling Effects of Public Shaming during COVID-19

The article The Public-Shaming Pandemic highlights the effects of harsh online denunciation towards individuals who unintentionally spread COVID-19. While it is understandable why people may be angry at these individuals, the extent to which these individuals are shamed and the devastating effects it has on their lives makes it questionable. Under the framework of virtue ethics, the concept of shaming as a mechanism to realign people with social responsibility may be respectable, but public shaming through modern online platforms during this pandemic seems to have become more of a mechanism for punishment. Internet attacks received at a pace like rapid fire have had detrimental effects on the livelihoods and well beings of COVID-spreaders, many of whom had no intention of spreading the disease to others or didn’t fully understand what was considered proper behavior early on in the pandemic.

In the midst of this pandemic, I think it is important to remember that we are all trying to navigate this together. While it is necessary to remind people of their social responsibility during this pandemic, the motivation behind extreme attacks like death threats seems to be less about regulating personal behavior and more about harassment. When these individuals’ lives are so drastically turned upside down, there is no opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes, ultimately making this kind of public shaming not only damaging, but also counterproductive. 

That is not to say that reckless behavior should not be addressed during this pandemic, but there needs to be ways of condemning harmful societal behaviors without completely crippling an individuals’ character. One of the ways that may help to alleviate the devastation of public shaming is by keeping medical and other personal information private. Low patient profiles would decrease opportunities for impulsive attacks and mass outrage towards already vulnerable individuals like Nhung, who, because of her publicized COVID-19 diagnosis in Vietnam, received harsh criticism and had some people spreading misinformation about her whereabouts even when she was lying in a hospital bed. Another consideration that might help to find this balance is whether social media, because of its potential to spread misinformation and generate mass harassment, could ever effectively play a role in censuring behavior. And if not, what are some practical alternatives?

The Public-Shaming Pandemic

COVID-19 has caused the globe to reckon with a myriad of issues that it wasn’t prepared to address. As T.D. Max highlights in his article “The Public-Shaming Pandemic” one of these key issues is that of privacy. In particular, the right an individual has to keep their medical information private when it could impact the health of other individuals. There have been several instances were officials released some patient information to the public with the hope that exposed people could begin isolating. However, the public has often taken this information and identified the individuals who brought the disease into the community to publicly shaming them on virtual platforms. This has greatly affected these individuals as they have experienced some of the harshest bullyings while already at their most vulnerable.

With officials focusing mainly on the tangible health consequences, they haven’t focused on the abstract, ethical impacts of the pandemic. However, I feel that this is nevertheless an important debate that should take place concurrently with the pandemic – not after. While I personally feel that public shaming can be an effective tool for admonishing hurtful behavior, I agree with T.D. Max that it can be detrimental when applied to a single individual. Moreover, the effect is amplified nowadays thanks to social media. There currently exists no measured way for an individual to be socially reprimanded without it ruining their life.

Consequently, I feel that we need to enforce stricter guidelines on protecting patients’ privacy. Not only is there something to be said about one’s right to medical privacy, but it will also serve as a temporary safeguard while our global society establishes more online privacy protections. By increasing the barriers to access medical information, the public cannot dox infectious individuals, thereby increasing general online privacy for the entire community. Simultaneously, we need to keep insisting on the public health measures that guard the community against COVID (ie, masks, social distancing, etc.). In most of these cases, infectious individuals transmitted the disease incidentally; with proper safeguards, the community has little to worry about and would have no rational explanation for bullying the individual. However, these are just a few thoughts on the matter, and I would welcome discussion on tangible solutions/benefits on restricting access to medical records during the pandemic.

Sympathizing with Super-Spreaders?

I’ve never thought to sympathize with those who have been super-spreaders of the coronavirus. However, The Public-Shaming Pandemic highlights the detrimental effects that passerby and social media users can create when they attack and target those who have been infected. I believe, like most bioethical issues, there is a fine balance to be struck. The coronavirus is a mystery. Many didn’t understand how contagious it was and how to contain themselves, especially as early as February. They didn’t want the virus, and most who were infected didn’t know that they had it. But there’s a fundamental societal problem if celebrities and wealthy people are spreading the virus because they can pay the costs and utilize their status and wealth to recover. This, in itself, is a perfect reflection of the capitalist system. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that the 1% is exacerbating the virus for the 99%. Rather there lies a primary issue of privilege, and in many cases, ignorance. Most cannot afford to fly to a luxurious spot in Europe where they would get infected, and then stay in a deluxe hospital, and receive unlimited time off work to recover. Many people couldn’t even get tests, so why should Nga Nguyen have special priority? 

It isn’t her fault that she was born into a system that would continually favor her. It is the social and political system behind it. Privilege flows into every facet of their lives, while the opposite exists for the less privileged. I don’t blame those who have lost relatives, gotten laid off from work, and struggle to feed their families for using social media as an outlet to release their anger at the inequalities that are being brought to light. Social media has always been a frenzy. It was made so that there doesn’t need to be any identity behind offensive messages. 

I saw this “public-shaming” transpire just recently, when supermodel Kendall Jenner had a giant birthday party. She, of course, received backlash. I understand why, but I believe this anger should not be directed at her character, but rather her ability to ignore health precautions and put others at risk. This is obviously a problem. Therefore, as Max notes, “digital shaming can succeed when other forms of political action fail.” In this way, social media gives people a sense of accountability that can actually make legal change.

So, who is at fault? Is it Nga and Kendall or the global wealth gap and capitalist America?

The public as a collective sentencing people to commit suicide

In “The public-shaming pandemic”, D. T. Max explores the rising trend of “public shaming” that aims towards patients of COVID-19 who, accidently, spread the disease to other people. Max gives several cases, such as that of Nga, an Instagram influencer and Rokita, a polish doctor and shows how the public shaming nature of citizens effected these people.

In a moral point of view, I believe that “public shaming” can play a helpful role in preventing dangerous and potentially harmful behavior towards the society. Knowing that going to parties during a global pandemic or being racist towards racial minorities could potentially receive public backlash, people would be discouraged to behave in such ways, reducing the overall risk of people and promote overall happiness.

However, there are shady sides of public shaming such as extreme violation of privacy, more than optimal amounts of hatred and being condemned for actions that people may have not committed.

The case of Rokita, who had committed suicide due to the harsh backlash he received due to spreading the disease, showcases that the public holds to much influence and power without much responsibility. To elaborate, people in the public, tend to become extremely emotional and aggressive towards people like Rokita due to the danger that COVID-19 poses on them. The motivation for public shaming, therefore, for the public is not to only solely prevent further cases of COVID for the public good, but also lash out their insecurities and emotions to someone that could be blamed for the cause of the threat.

However, because there are no public guidelines that restrict people from condemning people for actions that are factually proven, or take responsibility for falsely or overly accusing someone for doing something, seems to be unfair for the individual, who can not simply persuade or confront the collective public like he or she would with an individual in order to resolve the issue or resolve and misunderstandings.

At the end, we come to many questions such as whether public shaming needs to be restricted in order to prevent cases such as Rokita, suiciding. Another solution perhaps may come from the state, or government, that gives the right amount of backlash or punishment instead of the public people. However, it is questionable whether this limitation of public shaming is possible due to the rights to freedom of speech, and the limitations that government enacted laws and policies have in mimicking the effects that public shaming have on generating a social atmosphere that discourages wrongful doings.

**this is a post for Week 14, on “Public Shaming Pandemic”, not Week 13