Public shaming is not fading (shame, anger, vote!) [1/5]

An outraged internet mob decided to make you pay. Individuals flock on social media to shame you, to call you names. The internet allowed these people to enter your bubble and use its websites to get more notorious in their action and to oppress you over weeks and weeks. Your private address gets leaked. People trespass on your property. You get razor blades in your mail, or other suspect packages.

Nowadays fueled by social media, public shaming dates way back to wooden pilorries. Locking someone up in the middle of the town center was common practice in small communities where almost everyone knew each other. Killed someone? Your head rolls over the floor. Raped your neighbor’s wife? Twenty whiplashes. Stole bread? Get tied up to the pillory for two days. As the onlookers shamed you through corporal punishment, they themselves were facing the consequences of misconduct. Through the public display it was clear that the actions that led to the situation of the shamed one should be avoided: social norms are enforced by public shaming.

Michel Foucault, himself intrigued by punishment, puts forward in his book Discipline and Punish:
The Birth of the Prison (1975) that prisons emerged in the 19th and 20th century and hid punishment from the public eye. In that same period, the human demographic boomed, cities became denser and if you ever were publicly shamed, you could move to another place and start anew. But at the end of the 21stcentury, public shaming got back on track with the emergence of the internet. Through your digital footprint people are just a google search away.

However it seems that public shaming and its modern digital version are different. As violent as the pillory seems, around 10 people died in London during the 18th century due to public shaming on a pillory (according to the historian Robert Shoemaker). Often the crowd was forgiving, especially when they felt the defendant had been treated unfairly – after the whipping or the humiliation, which lasted a couple of hours, the criminal could reintegrate back into society (they had done their time).

Its modern equivalent on social media goes on for days and months. Without a leader to bring the shaming to a stop, the mob goes on. On social media you speak for yourself, no one decides when it is enough, no one can force you to stop.
Modern public shaming is carried out over social media. You probably do not know the one humiliated, you do not see how ashamed they are nor their emotional state.

To better understand the implications of online shaming it is important to take in account multiple cases of public shaming, to understand the perspective of the victim.

This allows us to understand the anger on social media, how this same anger fuels political tribalism and how this will affect the 2020 election in the United States.

Cover picture. Credit : geralt

You may also like