Back in school, we have all witnessed somebody or even ourselves being cornered, cruelly by a big gang for saying something that was not intended to become an issue.
The trauma and humiliation that one goes through lives with them for a long time.
Today in the digital era, this fiasco is being relived online across social media platforms where one small lapse in judgement is blown out of proportion. Public shaming on the internet now has become a frequent occurrence.
So You Have Been Publicy Shamed, an awaited book by Jon Ronson, a renowned Welsh journalist looks into public shaming, its impact and real time incidences shared by people.
In December 2013, little did Justine Sacco, New York know, her one careless tweet will cause an outrage and her job.
She tweeted ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
When she landed, she found out, the hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet’ was trending. There was no end to the lashings she received online. One small mistake had escalated into a world wide issue.
A similar incident happened with Lindsey Stone, Plymouth who posed in jest in front of the Arlington National Cemetery. The picture caused a furore, people were outraged at the insensitivity. Things changed forever for Lindsay Stone.
Rega Jha, Editor, Buzzfeed India was recently also in the limelight when she carelessly tweeted on the day of The Pakistan-India Worldcup 2015 match.
Her apologies were ignored, and abuses were hurled at her all over Twitter.
What nobody understands is the mental repercussions of public shaming on a victim. One’s self esteem takes a hit, you start to measure your value against a mob’s judgement. One goes through a whirl of emotions from anger for being several punished to utter humiliation that you can’t even face yourself. Self reassurance becomes exhausting. You are looking for excuses to cut off from the outside world.
The effects are irreversible. in such cases, it’s the hardest to pick up the pieces and start all over.
Why do people resort to public shaming?
One could say, there is some sort of sadistic pleasure in seeing someone fall, stripping them online. As long as you are not the victim, It’s safe to kill someone else with words. When hundred other people come together, the mentality only gets magnified. Eventually, the cruel treatment continues to grow in size while the mistake remains the same.
It’s ironic how the internet, that gives you the freedom to express yourself, admonishes you for doing the same if the context is not agreeable. For example, a person may have donated a large amount of money to a charity organisation but because of his one careless tweet the next moment, his philanthropy is forgotten in an instant.
What happened to kindness, empathy, compassion? What happened to giving someone the benefit of doubt?
It’s great that at certain instances, the internet can bring to the limelight, mistakes that needs to be looked into. However, a generalised outlook for every mistake is unjust. What really needs to be amended is the course of action taken for these digital mistakes. The transgressions are all relative, the treatment for it should be decided accordingly. Why should slight carelessness rob somebody of their livelihood? People will then live in constant fear which can hamper somebody’s life as a whole.
Also, companies who cave in to the public portrayal of their employee, receive more flak just because they listened to a mob of strangers rather than standing up for their employee.
Is the internet desensitising us? Are we measuring everything by face value? We need to understand that, the internet will never truly gauge basic human emotions, shame being one of them. This underrated emotion has far reaching effects.
Let’s not hand over more power to shame than it already holds.