With the continuous development of the Internet and the appearance of new social media arises the problem of the youth depending on their virtual life. As with any area of human communication, online interactions can be both positive and negative, with the latter hurting people’s public and personal lives. Shaming is a part of human communication that took place long before the appearance of the Internet and social media; however, since it reflects processes that occur in the society, and the society is currently enthralled by social media, online shaming is a pervasive issue. Some may say that the main reason behind online shaming is to change one’s behavior for it to align with the perception of the majority. However, regardless of its reasons or intentions, online shaming is an unacceptable way of dealing with different human behaviors since it inflicts emotional distress to its subjects and rarely resolves conflicts in a positive way.
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To understand why online shaming should not be regarded as an acceptable way of dealing with various human behaviors, it is important to mention the statistics that show how such a form of shaming influences people and youth in particular. According to the groundbreaking survey released by Vodafone (2015), 43% of surveyed youth believed that online shaming (otherwise called cyberbullying) was a larger problem than substance abuse. Moreover, 41% of respondents indicated that their experiences with online shaming made them feel helpless, sad, and very depressed; 26% of the surveyed youth felt completely alone when being shamed online, and sadly, 18% of them considered suicidal thoughts (Vodafone, 2015). Cheung (2014) also explored the negative effect of electronic devices on peoples’ lives; as such, the researcher pointed to totalitarianism and terror prevailing over individualism when societies pay a lot of attention to the use of the Internet and social media. Another problem associated with online shaming not only refers to individual harm but also to the overall fascination of people with the idea of getting others into trouble through data breaches, wrongdoings, and provocative images that taint others’ reputation.
From the perspective of psychology and social sciences, any human behavior is bound to evoke a response, either positive or negative. Importantly, someone’s wrongdoing may cause both a positive or a negative response based on societal norms or individual perceptions of different situations. In the majority of cases, online shaming takes place when the perception of a single individual does not align with that of a community, which chooses to inflict public harassment as a form of punishment. This form of punishment can also be regarded as an attempt to choose one’s behavior. However, because online shaming predominantly brings emotional suffering to its subjects, the change of behavior is unlikely to occur. In order to truly impact one’s behavior and positively influence their decision-making, constructive criticism and engaging discussions are needed but not online shaming.
Through thought-provoking discussions and the finding of the acceptable way of resolving a conflict, rival parties are more likely to come to a mutual conclusion and change negative behaviors. While shaming may be the answer for specific groups to expose the unethical behaviors of influential individuals such as politicians or businesspeople, online shaming that subjects ordinary people to harassment will lead to nothing but personal distress. Also, it is important to mention the phenomenon of digilantism, which is targeted at raising awareness of one’s behaviors and publishing information that may be harmful to their integrity (Jane, 2017). However, despite the positive intentions of bringing public attention to a problem, digilantism can have such negative effects as punishing the innocent or causing a severe social argument. This means that there should be more effective mechanisms of dealing with negative behaviors rather than their exposure to public scrutiny online.
In the refutation of the above argument, it is important to understand why online shaming occurs. For this purpose, the study on online shaming conducted by Cheung (2014) should be mentioned; the researcher explained that online shaming is a process that reflects in such concepts as honor and dignity. This means that individuals to participate in online shaming feel a responsibility of inflicting some degree of harassment on those people who, in their opinion, deserved such an attitude. De Vries (2015) came to a similar conclusion and suggested that shaming is used for the regulation of behaviors of those people who have committed a wrongful act and had to be punished.
Patterns of online shaming are usually similar in the majority of instances and follow the following chain of events: a wrongful action of an individual is recorded, the material becomes available on social media, it is shared among users, an emotional response occurs, a material gets spread around the Internet, and it is eventually uptaken by the media. Contrary to the primary argument that made direct parallels between online shaming and cyberbullying and their adverse effects, De Vries (2015) made a direct differentiation between cyberbullying and online shaming. In the author’s opinion, cyberbullying was different to online shaming in the sense that it predominantly focused on personal qualities of an individual while online shaming referred to one’s behavior. Importantly, online shaming could have a positive effect though preventing negative behaviors from occurring. Therefore, it can be argued that online shaming could be regarded as an acceptable way of dealing with negative human behaviors.
In support of the refutation argument, several positive effects of online shaming should be explored. In her Wired article, Jennifer Jacquet (2015) mentioned that online shaming of individuals’ behaviors was more likely to bring negative consequences. However, the exposure of corporations’ wrongdoings and behaviors and the subsequent online shaming could bring positive results. Jacquet (2015) gave such examples as “singling out big banks for environmental destruction, exposing countries for refusing to end forced labor or calling out denialists who undermine action on climate change” (para. 2).
Shaming retailers and large corporations is often expected to yield dramatic changes and even legislation. For instance, the case of Tesco being involved the use of slave labor resulted in the retailer pledging to make sure that the supply chain was completely slave-free. It is essential to understand that without online shaming of Tesco, the company would not have paid attention to its use of slave labor and would have continued such an unethical practice. When speaking of individuals and not corporations, online shaming can play an important social function of motivating people to take responsibility for their actions and pursue a change to resolve the feeling of shame and attain forgiveness. Positive influences of online shaming include the communication of group norms and the punishment of their violation through elevating the status of those who enforce those norms.
To summarize, it can be concluded that online shaming can be viewed from two different perspectives. On the one hand, online shaming is an unacceptable form of dealing with individual behaviors since it negatively affects the integrity and the emotional status of those who have been subjected to shaming. It has been reported that victims of online shaming could experience depression, negative thoughts, social isolation, and negative self-perception. In this case, online shaming is equal to cyberbullying since both of them have negative effects on people and their emotional well-being. On the other hand, online shaming can catalyze positive change and shifting of negative behaviors. Through experiencing shaming, a person can reflect on his or her behaviors and subsequently make decisions in favor of doing the right thing and avoiding such behaviors in the future.
In this case, online shaming is not equal to cyberbullying since the latter predominantly refers to attacking one’s qualities of character rather than behaviors and actions. Nevertheless, the argument against the use of online shaming as an acceptable way of dealing with human behaviors prevailed. Despite having several positive outcomes, online shaming is a method of judging one’s behavior that eliminates constructive criticism or discussions that yield understanding between rival sides. In order to change one’s behavior, shaming with the use of social media or the Internet is unlikely to be effective. If a person committed a wrongdoing and deserved a judgment for it, he or she should be confronted not with shaming, but with an honest confrontation that encourages a discussion as well as a subsequent change of behaviors.
Cheung, A. S. (2014). Revisiting privacy and dignity: Online shaming in the global e-village. Laws, 3(2), 301-326.
De Vries, A. (2015). The use of social media for shaming strangers: Young people’s views. In System sciences (HICSS), 2015 48th Hawaii international conference on (pp. 2053-2062). Piscataway, NJ: IEEE.
Jacquet, J. (2015). Public shaming makes the world a better place. Web.
Jane, E. A. (2017). Feminist digilante responses to a slut-shaming on Facebook. Social Media+ Society, 3(2), 1-10.
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Vodafone. (2015). Groundbreaking Vodafone global survey reveals 43% of teens think cyberbullying a bigger problem than drug abuse. Web.