Friday, April 17, 2015

So You've Been Publicly Shamed: Why The Internet Is Scarier Than Stephen King's "It"

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
"A snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche."

The internet can be one scary mother. This book was absolutely fascinating and terrifying at the same time. What was once thought of as the best tool (social media) has turned some people into a beast of a different kind. I still believe in the positive powers of social media, so I am not allowing myself to become completely daunted by some of the things I have read in this book. I generally follow and subscribe to feeds which provide me nothing but unicorns and rainbows all day. I just can't deal when it comes to people being hateful. Recently Pink (the music artist) posted a picture of herself getting ready to attend a gala. She was dressed up, and I thought she looked stunning. She tweeted out the photo, and people began commenting on her being fat, out-of-shape, and all manner of insults were hurled at her. Of course, it is important to also note the wonderful people who complimented her, and told her how beautiful she looked. Read about the Pink Story here. This gives me pause, because say what you will it is hard to ignore people's body shaming, especially in such a public way. My children are growing up in this era of exposure, when everything you say or do is out there for everyone on blast. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be cautious, but I also cringe at the thought of my children, who's brains are still forming doing something stupid, as they inevitably will, and then being ripped apart for it. People used to think Twitter was an avenue for self-expression, and open, unabashed honesty. I don't think that's true anymore. If you're anything like me, as much as you say you don't, you actually do give a darn what other people think. Therefore, much of what I'd normally say to someone (in person), I'd never write in a Tweet. There's too much gray area, and it is open to people's interpretations, which is where Twitter can be grossly misused. Ladies and gentlemen, you would not believe what goes on out there in the world of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. I've seen it with my own eyes, and largely remained silent. Or maybe you would believe it. I don't know. I know a little about public shaming because I wrote a post a few months back (don't try looking, I've since deleted it to protect those involved) and received backlash from that post. People commented on my intelligence and competence, and people who I knew, and trusted (used purposefully in the past tense) provided fodder for the masses. Again, this is also why I deleted the post. I had brought the issue back to life. Performed CPR on an issue which had died down a bit, and breathed new life into it. Of course I had never intended for that to happen, but it did. My words were misconstrued and twisted and I was made to look like a naive idiot. It actually made me sick to my stomach to read what people were writing. I thought, my God, how could this have gone so wrong? I deleted Twitter from my phone to pretend it didn't exist. Except, it did. The internet can be a loaded gun, and this book will aim it its barrel at these people and fire. Blasting their misdeeds for all to see once again. 

One of the stories chronicled in the book was that of Adria Richards and the "PyCon" conference. Adria took a photo of two guys at the conference after hearing them joking about "forking" and "dongles", which are apparently tech terms. I wouldn't know, but you can see how they'd be construed as sexual in nature. She didn't explain her reason for snapping the picture, she just swiveled out of her chair and took the picture of these two unsuspecting guys. One of the guys is actually smirking. He thought she was taking the picture of the crowd. She then tweeted the picture to all of her followers and explained that they were in violation of the PyCon code of conduct, and specifically the words they were using. In the ensuing firestorm that followed the tweet, the smirking man in question, a father of three, was fired from his job as was Adria Richards. But not before the disgusting flogging took place telling Adria she should "kill herself" and all sort of other vehemence. Disturbing seems too mild a word to use in this instance. I did come across this blog post which details the situation if you find yourself curious. I was, and I thought it was well done. Adria Richards and How We All Lost . Take also the story of Justine Sacco, who was traveling to Africa and sent out a tweet in poor taste and judgement. While on an international flight, her world was blown to smithereens. Read this article from the NY Times about what happened to Justine. She had a similar response to her Tweet that Adria did. People thought she should "kill herself so the world would be rid of a racist C*#@ like her." Justine was in P.R., and had a job she loved. Shouldn't she have known the P.R. nightmare this would stir up? Apparently not. She stated she wrote the tweet about "white privilege" but also admitted that reflecting upon it she could see that the reaction would be from people reading it literally. Well, yeah. So public shaming in the forms of whippings and torture have been outlawed since the 1800's, but public shaming has taken on a whole new face in recent years. The scary monster that is the internet means that people can have access to your address, phone numbers, e-mail, place of work, your spouse's and children's names and can threaten your life. They'll detail the many ways they'd kill and torture you, and you have no choice but to go into hiding. You don't know these people. They're virtual strangers, but you bet your a#$ you are afraid.
I'm in no way saying that we shouldn't rally against mysoginist behavior, felons who terrorize our communities, or tell someone that we are offended and angry. I think it is fine to cry foul when someone is in the wrong. Listen, you do what you have to do. But many of the people chronicled in the book never even got the chance to face the music before they were put on blast and ripped apart. Forgiveness is a choice, and you don't have to choose to forgive. It's just that people on the internet can be scary and unforgiving. When you publicly announce something, the repercussions can be swift and severe. The truth is, most of these people will never recover. In almost every instance, the person who did the offending may have gotten off easier than the whistle blower. The women fared far worse than the men. What the hell? It's almost always the case that both parties walk away bruised, battered, sometimes fired, and their lives torn apart. Doing the right thing isn't always easy, hence why it's rarely done. 
There's a great Problem-Based Learning problem called Welcome to Social Media for students about social media, and the effects it can have on our lives and our future. I think, if you're an educator, it is important to discuss this with your students, and maybe through some channel be able to grow from other people's mistakes. I know I have grown tremendously in the past few months on the "Do's and Don'ts of Social Media, but my pie in the sky thought is that we all grow from this book and this information. You don't have to love it to hear the message. Choose kind. I think we can win the internet that way. Thank you for reading. 


  1. I've enjoyed the authors comments on social shaming prior to the book publication. I've got a,copy and I know it will anger me, but I want to read it. Wonderful comprehensive review Melody 😀

  2. Thank you, Anita! I think about this book every time I see something pop up now. You should read the book, it's very interesting.