Fear and Shaming in NetVegas

Rude Rainbow Designed by Midnight Cowboy. Source: Threadless

Rude Rainbow Designed by Midnight Cowboy. Source: Threadless


** Warning: The F-Word and its variations are mentioned in this post**


Earlier this week, I went to post an image on social media, stopped, and then deleted it without posting.

Somewhere between seeing the image and thinking “This is SO hilarious! I have to share it!” and pressing the Share button, I lost my nerve. I decided that someone, somewhere may get offended by the image because it contains the word “fucking”.

Fucking, as an adjective – not a verb – so there was not even any sexual reference. The image in question also contained a rainbow. The image encouraged the reading of books. It was pretty hardcore.

How did it get to this? When did I decide that my friends (or friends of friends) would need smelling salts after witnessing such an obscenity?

Public shaming has been on my mind this week. Not just my own – although I don’t think I’d be alone in putting it near the top of the list of fears – but the act of shaming others.

I’ve been reading Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, in which he discusses the resurgence of public shaming via social media.

Ronson tells the stories of folks who’ve made some very silly mistakes – publicly – and have had the wrath of the internet come down upon them. A few of the people he profiles I had heard of – such as Jonah Lehrer who was taken to task for making up quotes in one of his books and Justine Sacco who tweeted about going to Africa and getting AIDS – but most were unknown to me.  The vehemence and destructiveness of the attacks by social media shocked me. And made me a wee bit fearful.

These are people whose lives have been destroyed by strangers – for a stupid mistake.

Who amongst us hasn’t made one stupid mistake?

I’m glad I made the majority of my mistakes before the internet.

But I do still make mistakes. And reading the examples of shaming in Ronson’s book makes me wonder whether it’s just a matter of time before the world finds out that I didn’t really return that Neale Donald Walsh library book in 2005 and that, one night in 2009, I accidentally left confidential documents in the car overnight.

Little everyday fuckups.

It seems we have returned to the barbarism of public shaming – our village square is now global and one wrong word, one misjudged comment can strip you of your job, your community, your self-worth.

While Ronson’s book brought to my awareness the ease with which one can be shamed, it also left me a little bit torn.

Isn’t calling out bad behaviour a form of justice in an unjust system? What about all those unapologetic animal abusers? What about spouses who repeatedly violate AVOs to continue their onslaught of terror?

Doesn’t public shaming stop these behaviours?

Maybe, in the short term, but I’m now wondering if the long-term damage – Ronson describes the “deadening” that happens in a person who has been shamed – creates even more problems.

It makes me think of the daily examples I see on social media where public figures are treated like the scum of the earth because they’ve either made a mistake or they’ve made a decision or statement that is unconventional or unpopular. We don’t know all the details of the situation and/or their lives and yet we are quick to judge. The internet is now just a tickertape tabloid.

And as Ronson observes, “We are defining our boundaries of normal by tearing apart the people outside of it”. We are using outrage to make those who are different from us conform.

For me, it’s not just the shaming but also the deluge of outrage that fills my feeds.  I’m so exhausted from reading all the THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT stuff that I now just skim over most posts that don’t involve kittens.

Well, I’m done. I have outrage fatigue. I can’t take any more in.

I do wonder if I’m missing important news but I don’t have the mental and emotional energy required to engage with EVERY injustice in the world.

And that, I think, is the real shame.

So, I’m going back to rainbowland … to read a fucking book.


Rude Rainbow Tee Shirt and Print designed by MidnightCowboy and available at Threadless