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The perils of social media’s public shaming

Holding people accountable for their mistakes is necessary, but the problem is that some people’s reactions are far worse than the mistake itself

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

Some people write comments on Twitter or Facebook thinking they are funny or a little mean, but are surprised by the extent of the reaction, which sometimes turns into a campaign of public shaming that can destroy one’s social life and career.

I have for two weeks followed the most important hashtags suggested to me by Twitter and Facebook. Two or three out of 10 suggested hashtags included some sort of public shaming, contempt or mockery of certain people. A quick read of the comments shows the size and ferocity of the criticism, which most times can be insulting or even racist.

Social networking websites have become an indispensable tool, as they reveal the public mood. However, they also expose how many people resort to social media to overly scandalize someone who probably made a mistake. This is not a call to fear expression on social media, but we must realize how many people are influenced by what we say and write.

The phenomenon of public shaming via social media is global. Perhaps the best book written in this field is Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” The book details Ronson’s travels to different countries, where he meets people who have been publicly shamed via social media, resulting in radical changes to their personal life and career.

Ronson says we are living in a time of public shaming. It is true. Most people who were silent before the rise of social media now have a voice, but what are they doing with it? It seems we have become merciless as we track down people’s mistakes and adopt public shaming and condemnation as a means of social control rather than highlighting mistakes for the sake of achieving reform.

Holding people accountable for their mistakes is necessary, but the problem is that some people’s reactions are far worse than the mistake itself. Is it wise to summarize an entire human being on the basis of one mistake, instead of putting the whole situation in a broader context?

No one should underestimate the depth of influence of public-shaming campaigns. To be publicly shamed calls for reconsidering the cruelty we adopt toward others. It calls on us to rethink whether this cruelty is a suitable punishment for that mistake. Social media reproduces society’s authority instead of easing it. Public shaming in this case is the punishment imposed by collective values.

Holding people accountable for their mistakes is necessary, but the problem is that some people’s reactions are far worse than the mistake itself.

Diana Moukalled

Yes, we can feel satisfied when publicly shaming others for their mistakes, and sometimes we take things too far. However, we must assess the extent of our cruelty as we resort to pubic shaming, mockery and condemnation. This is not a call to end criticism or mockery, as of course there are many stances on Twitter and Facebook that must be condemned. However, what should the extent of punishment be?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 3, 2015.
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Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

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