Justice and Shame in the Age of Social Media

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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81 Responses

  1. Will Truman says:

    Michael Brenden Dougherty made the fantastic point that things didn’t get out of hand incidentally because she was on a plane and unable to respond… that she was on a plane and unable to respond was the actual point. That’s not the precise wording, but unfortunately MBD auto-deletes old tweets and so I doubt it still exists.Report

  2. Saul DeGraw says:

    Yeah this strikes me as largely right. Twitter and social media might be able to get a very rich and powerful person to issue a public apology (or non-apology apology depending) and lay low for a bit of time and keep off the grid but Twitter can’t take away that person’s wealth and/or connections.

    Jonah Lerner was able to get a 20,000 dollar speaking fee about his plagarism because he was already published in magazines like the New Yorker and a best-selling author. Everyone wants to hear that redemption stroy. Ms. Richards is an African-American Jewish woman working in an industry without many women or African-Americans, yet alone African-American women. I don’t necessarily agree with what she did to Hank (who managed to keep himself largely anonymous) but her punishment largely outweighs her action.

    Here is what I think is going on. We live in a world with 7 billion people. Obviously this is going to create a lot of disagreement. All this social media seems to be a lot of quid pro quo trench warfare in a never ending culture war. The left gets Ms. Sacco terminated and then the right-wing goes after Ms. Quinn and Ms. Richards. And it just goes on and on….Report

  3. greginak says:

    The people we forgive or tolerate their “failures” are people we had a pre-existing affection or admiration for. The people, like Sacco, who get the full brunt of mob justice are those we don’t know and have no connection to. There is no human side or positive feeling to mediate the bile that can get thrown at them. They become the avatars for all the bad we see. The intertoobz have always had a problem with anonymity and how it brings out the worst in people. Twitter, for all that it can be good at, is super vulnerable to impersonal, lightening quick and thoughtful attacks.Report

  4. Doctor Jay says:

    I don’t disagree with Tod, but I have something I wish to add.

    Public shaming is a tool of oppression. It is a primary resource of white supremacists. It is what keeps the low-status whites from making common cause with the African Americans – there is a very real threat that they will be labeled “nigger lovers” and treated as if they were black.

    The public shaming of women’s sexuality that we refer to as “slut shaming” is used to constrain the sexual behavior of women.

    So that’s two examples, I’m sure you can think of more.

    Shaming is an expression of power, and an enhancement of power. It works best when there is a power differential already. Thus we see that Justine Sacco is a much easier target, particularly since her being on a plane reduces her power even further.

    I think that it is not possible to end oppression by using the tools of oppression. The best you can hope for is to swap one oppressed class for another.

    I think shaming is one of the worst tools for social change possible. It doesn’t change anyone’s mind. There’s been a fair amount of academic research on fat shaming, for instance. The research generally shows that fat-shaming people doesn’t make them thinner, it makes them fatter.

    So, in short, how effectively the shaming works depends on how powerful the target was to begin with. In the case of Mel Gibson, his star was already fading – he was losing power.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Which loops back to Tod’s final point, we don’t shame to affect change, we shame because it makes us feel good about ourselves.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      This was a really great comment.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I dunno. I find it very powerful when those who would shame me are themselves shamed. It’s complicated, and I’m not saying it’s entirely healthy, but it’s not my fault people are shitty bigots. And while we can always look to the meta layer, ask “Is shame-in-general good?”, I can turn the knob one more setting and ask, “Is refusing to use an effective social tool against abusive people good?”

      And we can go round and round on that, but don’t pretend your abstraction is more natural or correct than mine. There is never one meta. There is never one map that perfectly fits the territory.

      When I see people shame transphobes, they are saying to me, “veronica, their attacks on you are not only wrong, but literally shameful, cuz hurting you is awful and you are good, and this is perfectly obvious. What they are saying about you is intolerable.”

      On the other hand, when such people are not shamed, basically you say that some abstract principle is worth more than my life.

      Okay, I don’t mean you personally, but I mean society wide. If this stuff is “just another opinion” — actually it is not. It’s an opinion about me, about my fundamental human dignity. It’s full-on the value of my life.

      “Detached observation” says that, no actually, veronica, maybe you are human shit. It’s an opinion. Let’s hold a public debate.

      (As an aside, we can discuss the prudence of various tactics, but I’m not talking about that right now.)Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

        As with Burts excellent post on the Death Penalty, what do we do when the shame is not deserved? When the mob makes the all too common mistake of missing the context (because so much context is possible in 140 characters), how do we make the target whole?

        The Twitter mob is like a swarm of wasps that descends upon whatever strikes their ire. Perhaps Karma is at play and the wasps torment a truly awful bigot, but I suspect that more often than not, the target is just someone who inadvertently pissed off the wasps. There was no process, no trial, no chance to speak in defense. There is no legal or moral relief available to the person so stung, all they can do is crawl away and try to recover as best they can.

        This is above the tactics, this is a question of how do we know who to properly shame, who is truly deserving of it?Report

      • Doctor Jay in reply to veronica d says:

        @veronica-d I want to very strongly state that I don’t think you are human shit, for any reason you have given above, or any other.

        I think that it is quite normal for someone who has been shamed to find it powerful when those who have shamed them are shamed themselves. That’s a part of what I call “the hot potato of shame”. People pass it around as fast as they can because it’s so distressing and painful. As far as I know, the only way to reduce shame is for a cadre of brave and exceptional people to simply refuse to act this way, and seek something else. This can be done on a case by case basis.

        That said, I want to say again: as far as I can tell, entirely useless at changing someone else’s behavior. With regard to trans people, I have some direct experience, since my own daughter is a trans woman.

        When it so happens that I have to represent to someone (usually with a need to know, but also with relatives) about her situation, I am frank and matter-of-fact. If they venture into shaming territory, I will say, “that’s very hurtful” or explain why it’s hurtful with assorted facts from biology or history or whatever. I have had one close friend of the family say she wasn’t sure whether she should tell her son about my daughter because she was worried that he might get “funny ideas” as in, she might infect him and then he would want to transition. I said to her, “That’s very unlikely. If there’s one thing I know about trans people, it’s that they never change their minds” This resolved the issue. To me, there’s a sort of infectiousness to non-shame, just as there is to shame. I prefer to spread non-shame.

        Another example would be that one bit on Louie where the gay man describes where the word “faggot” comes from. He is not shaming Louie, he is not calling him a terrible person.

        This is not shaming. This is speaking about your own experiences. It is more vulnerable than shaming, which is why it is avoided. And because it’s more vulnerable, I don’t expect it to be used in all places at all times.

        Nevertheless, I hold to my thesis that shame never changes peoples minds, it never makes them change sides.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          Doctor Jay,

          as far as I can tell, entirely useless at changing someone else’s behavior.

          Nevertheless, I hold to my thesis that shame never changes peoples minds, it never makes them change sides.

          I think I gotta disagree. For one, I think shaming does change people’s behavior. On the one hand people may, and often do, internalize the anticipated negative consequences of engaging in a certain behavior and refrain from engaging in it. On the other hand, I think shaming can also cause some people to aggressively lash out as a defense against the vulnerability that shame causes in folks.

          For seconders, I think it can also change a person’s beliefs, not only about themselves but about how they view others. Eg, if a person is ridiculed for engaging in a certain type of behavior (or whatever) it seems to me that if that shame is internalized people will and often do form beliefs by which other people engaging in that behavior can be legitimately (on an internal calculus) shamed or ridiculed.

          {{Here’s where I want to elaborate at length about how this is a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of negativity from which all sorts of really problematic cultural stuff emerges….. Imagine I’ve done just that!}}

          This is inconsistent with Tod’s thesis to some extent. On this view, people engage in shaming behavior for largely unconscious reasons, and if challenged on it they’d probably think the behavior they’re engaging in is “normal”, and distinctly not an attempt to inflict pain. At least from their pov.

          But that last sentence is the detail-containing devil, more than likely. Just because a person is unconscious of a desire to inflict pain doesn’t mean that’s not what they’re actually doing. We normalize this stuff all the time. Eg, Burt’s post on the death penalty is of a piece with this, seems to me. People generally (probably), but Americans in particular (certainly) love em some punition.Report

          • Doctor Jay in reply to Stillwater says:

            I make a distinction between guilt and shame, and it may seem to some like a nitpick, but when you dig into the research that people like Brenee Brown have done, you find that it’s quite important.

            Guilt is about what you did and shame is about who you are. Guilt is not a permanent judgement on a person’s character and worthiness to be with other people. Guilt does not place them in the out group. Guilt does enumerate the harm that they have done.

            So guilt very definitely has a social use, a purpose. it’s quite important for us to tell each other what harm they have done. But so often, instead of telling people what harm they’ve done, we tell them that they are terrible people.Report

      • Zane in reply to veronica d says:

        This isn’t a well-thought through notion, and I’m sure that someone else has written extensively on it, but I think shame as a social tool isn’t bad or good in and of itself. Context matters.

        Is shame a powerful tool of oppression? Certainly. Shame has been used to control and manage the downtrodden for as long as we’ve had societies.

        But it’s also true that shame can be a useful tool to combat oppression. What slumlord with city contracts wants his or her terrible dealings with renters exposed? Sure, the wealthy and the privileged have more tools to avoid the consequences of public exposure, but they have more tools to avoid any kind of negative consequences in general.

        Shame has the most power when the shamed have something to lose. This is one of the reasons why coming out for LGBT people can feel so liberating. The disfavored status may still bring negative consequences, but not the secret.Report

    • zic in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      +1 @doctor-jayReport

    • Damon in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Good examples. OFC, BSDI as well.Report

    • Cardiff Kook in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I thought Tod’s post was great.

      However, I find Dr Jay’s framework incomplete. There seems to be a paradigm on the leftward side of the spectrum that shaming is a tool of the right and of the white rich oppressors and as such is a terrible affront on justice and wellbeing.

      In a way, they are correct. Shaming can be used that way. It is a tool, and the tool can be used for evil. But it can also be used for good. For example, everyone on the left CONSTANTLY uses shame to attempt to control and suppress racism. It is still shaming. I assume they believe their actions are good, otherwise they should stop using this club.

      Foragers use shame, ridicule and mockery extensively to control each other and suppress cheating, free riding and bossiness. It is a mild rebuke which sends early and psychological warnings to socially harmful activities without all the risks of escalating into violence. Shame serves a valuable purpose.

      Again though, it is a tool which can be used for oppression as well as to facilitate sociability and cooperation.

      As another example, in pre modern times when a child out of marriage was potentially a life ruining event for a young woman ( who would not be able to support it or herself alone due to the fact people lived on the edge of starvation). Shame may have been hurtful, but it is quite easy to grok how it could have been on net a positive for society to use it. It could save lives.

      Shame is a form of harm. It is. But it is one which can also be used for good, and often is.Report

  5. Vikram Bath says:

    This hypothesis is too depressing. I’m not surprised I wasn’t able to generate it myself.

    I’ll have to think more about whether it is actually true. I don’t like to flinch from the truth, but this is really hard not to flinch at.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      It is always that animal portion of man of which we are most afraid, though it is unavoidable, indeed integral, to our being.
      Which probably goes a long way into explaining why we are so afraid of it.Report

  6. Mr. Blue says:

    A lot of factors are at play. Among them:

    Justice, of a sort. You can’t get all the bad guys, but there are some you can get easier than others. Those without power are the easiest to tag.

    Power. It’s a form of bullying not unlike the more familiar kind. The main difference is that instead of justifying it by saying that the target is a geek or a loser, it’s justified by saying that the target is unclean.

    Preening. You can prove your worthiness by attacking the unworthy. Look at me, ma, I’m putting the bad person in their place. Aren’t you proud?

    Team-building. We are over here, they are over there. Let’s lodge some missiles. I think I see some opening.Report

  7. SaulDegraw says:

    Another issue seems to be that a lot of people have issues with anger, rage, and anger management.

    You see this more in cities and it is one reason why I can understand the appeal of the suburban and country life. I live in a pretty safe area but still hear a lot of “fuck you man I am gonna fuck you up” talk on the street below my apartment at night. I also see a lot of incidents were there is one person walking away and another person trailing and trying to provoke a fight and often succeeding.

    There are times when I have responded to a provocation with rage and regretted it afterwards.

    I wonder how much Twitter rage is proxy for stuff beyond our control?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to SaulDegraw says:

      Twitter is the id. Full, unrestrained, and pure.

      Say what you will about comment sections, but if you find yourself writing full paragraphs with line breaks and everything, you’ve probably moved from id space to ego space.

      There’s also the whole things about how the internet is the first form of entertainment that I can think of that has entire swaths of it controlled and created by adolescents. Until very recently, entertainments were created by adults: television, radio, movies, books, so on and so forth. Sure,there were a handful of exceptions (mostly in music) but the gatekeepers to the public were all adults.

      The internet has some seriously large areas that don’t have any adults at all.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

        So what you’re saying is, “Lord of the Flies” wasn’t fiction.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Hobbes was right. Rousseau was wrong.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

            Darwin was right.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

              Azathoth is.

              We were talking about Nrx in the Gamergate thread.

              If you want to enjoy yourself some tasty crazy, there’s a quick tutorial on Gnon available here:


              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                (And, of course, Nrx tends to make the old mistake of saying “wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have a benevolent dictator?” and giving examples of a handful while eliding the whole issue of what malevolent dictators tend to end up doing. Though, granted, the more crafty ones do a good job of comparing the worst excesses of democracy with the best excesses of the malevolent dictators.)Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                (And allow me to distance myself from any advocates of the odious HBD theory, which a distressing amount of Nrx people have grabbed onto.)Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                (And allow me to distance myself from any advocates of the odious HBD theory, which a distressing amount of Nrx people have grabbed onto.)

                That part goes without saying.

                If you turn into a Justine Tunney fan I’m gonna be distraught. Although she does seem to render the average NRx-er sexually confused, which has to count as a plus.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d says:


                I am guessing that NRx stands for Neo-Reactionary. I am also going to guess that the Rx is on purpose because it makes their ideals look like a prescription to a disease.

                Here is the thing. Most people (and I mean something close to 98 percent of the population if not higher) have no idea who the neo-Reactionaries and who Justine Tunney is. I could probably do a poll in SF (this tech city of tech cities) about NRx and Justine Tunney and draw a lot of blanks. I bet I could even do so while focusing on people in tech.

                I just wonder if there are some of us (including myself) that are just a little too caught up in all this on-line stuff. The fights are serious but they remind me of academic fights because of the small number of well-known participants on both sides.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                I am also going to guess that the Rx is on purpose because it makes their ideals look like a prescription to a disease.

                I’m pretty sure that that’s incidental. Twitter only has 140 chars, man.Report

              • who Justine Tunney is

                Didn’t she knock out Justack Dempsey?Report

              • Dand in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                HDB=human biodiversity=Steve SailerReport

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


                I was in government club in High School. We did things like Model Congress and Model U.N.

                There were a handful of kids (all very smart, all with very good grades, all very precocious) who would say things like “The problem with Fascism is that they don’t put people like us in charge.”

                I knew at 15-17 that there was a big problem with statements like this. Now this sort of statement is forgiveable in teenagers and maybe even in college students. It is not so forgiveable after someone turns 24…Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                I prefer the anarchists even yet to the “we need a sustainable Enlightenment that doesn’t turn into a post-Enlightenment!” folks.

                Sure, you’ll have to burn the state down over and over again.

                You have to feed your cat every day too but you don’t complain about *THAT*.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird — For the life of me I can’t figure out how anarchy is even supposed to work. Like, so we get rid of the “hierarchy” (cuz unjust) and then we …

                Uh, what do we do?

                I mean, I don’t know what we do next. Just don’t create a new hierarchy, ‘cept that’s exactly what would happen duh obviously OMG! Like, the people who figure out the game in this system will figure out the game in the new system and they’ll bend/fold/mutilate the new system to please them, and the rad-queer anarcho rebels, who are totally ineffective in this system will somehow be able to stop them in that other system —

                cuz reasons!

                Blah to all of that.

                Of course like 80% of my friends are anarcho- something or another. Which is irritating.Report

              • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

                Oh and this.Report

              • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

                As near as I can tell, anarchy would function about as well as Anonymous does.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                I mean, I don’t know what we do next.

                “Sure, we might put out the fire, but what do we do after that?”

                I’m cool with putting out the fire.

                And if there is a new fire that arises, I’m cool with putting that one out too.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

                @veronica-d Anarchists tend to argue that people are naturally good and cooperative with each other. The state was imposed by a few bad apples in order to gain more power and wealth for themselves. If we can somehow dismantle the state and return humans to natural statelessness than we will have a society based on voluntary cooperation rather than coercion because magic. During the early 20th century, George Bernard Shaw wrote a little book pointing out all the falls with this philosophy.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

                No no no no. The state was created as an emergent propery of the cooperation of people. Then it was *CAPTURED* by the bad apples in order to gain more power and wealth for themselves.

                It is at this point that we need to press reset.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                The bad apples captured the State to gain more wealth and power. So why is that bad, rich people getting richer at the expense of others is just inequality. I’ve heard rising inequality is a good thing.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                Confiscation, arbitrage, and creation are all very different things. Inequality that arises as a result of creation is *AWESOME*. Inequality that arises as a result of arbitrage is frustrating but not obviously wrong. Inequality that arises as a result of confiscation is *BAD*.

                Just because inequality that arises as a result of confiscation is bad does not make inequality bad. And, yes, just because inequality that arises as the result of creation is good then that doesn’t make inequality good.

                The bad apples remain bad apples, though.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                A lot of the liberal complaint about inequality is that it is rising because rich people have gamed the system in various ways so that they get most of the advantages.

                I would think creation would lead to all boats rising in general. Not a few boats flying into space and the others just floating around.Report

              • j r in reply to greginak says:

                Not a few boats flying into space and the others just floating around.

                That description only works, and then only barely, when you extend the metaphor only as far as the borders of the United States.

                When you factor in the 60 or 70 million Chinese people who moved out of grinding poverty in the last generation or two, the picture is somewhat different.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to greginak says:

                A lot of the liberal complaint about inequality is that it is rising because rich people have gamed the system in various ways so that they get most of the advantages.

                The thing is, they’re just indiscriminately asserting this about rich people in general, which is bullshit, as are most of the claims about how the system is being gamed. Actual things I’ve seen labeled as ways the rich game the system:

                -Not passing enough laws to privilege unions.
                -Capital gains tax rates.
                -The cap on social security taxes.
                -The fact that personal income tax rates top out at a “mere” 39.6%
                -Not subsidizing college enough.
                -Private school.
                -The fact that capital is more mobile than labor*
                -Tax-exempt municipal bonds
                -Pharmaceutical patents. Not that they need certain reforms, but the fact that they exist at all.

                When leftists talk about “rigging the game,” it’s usually code for “I don’t know anything about economics, but I’m 100% confident in my bigoted belief that anyone who has more than me must be cheating somehow, and I want my share!”

                Cronyism is a real thing, but the effects are much subtler. I doubt very much that it has a noticeable effect on the shape of the income distribution. Mostly it insures that the owner of this business makes a lot of money instead of the owner of that other business, or that more money goes into this industry, and less into that other industry. I’d very much like to see it go away, but it’s likely that the benefits would come in terms of a general enrichment through greater efficiency, not a dramatic reshaping of the income distribution.

                The reality is that there’s a perfectly obvious explanation for rising intranational income inequality, which has two parts. First, globalization, combined with rising population and rising incomes, especially in the developing world, means huge, huge markets. A single company can now have hundreds of mililons, even billions of customers, which means bigger payoffs for creating and/or funding those kinds of companies, and also greater marginal value of good management.

                On the other side, American workers are no longer as privileged against competition from a billion or so Chinese, Indian, and Eastern European workers as they used to be. It’s unfortunate for us, but it’s a great thing for human welfare in general.

                The tin-foil-hat theories of income inequality are for people who don’t understand supply and demand.

                *That one was especially poorly thought-through; the last thing the typical American worker wants is greater labor mobility.Report

              • greginak in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Gotcha Brandon. Liberals don’t read from the The Book of Correct Economics therefore conservatives win.

                Each one of the issues you raised could have a quite different interpretation then the one you are offering. I have no doubt globalisation is part of the reason for our rising inequality but of course other countries have seen different results so our solution is not the only one and true solution.Report

              • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Niven’s was shorter.Report

              • North in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oofda, that link was amusing until I get to the therefore’s at the end.Report

  8. Patrick says:

    There are two sides of this coin, I think.

    “Because what I have decided is that what we really want when we are outraged in these instances isn’t justice. It’s to inflict pain.”

    That’s one side.

    The other side is a comment I made before (I think on a post that you wrote, sir). For all that America is probably more Protestant than Catholic… we like penance.

    We want to see suffering of the repentant, rather than inflict pain on the guilty.

    It feels like redemption, it feels like justice, it feels like we get the whole hat trick.

    We made the guilty aware of their sin, they repent, and are made whole.

    This is why folks don’t have problem with folks they like violating their ideological priors as long as they produce a come to Jesus moment and appear to have once again rejoined the flock. This is why Tammy and Jim Baker have a comeback tour.

    It’s also why it can devolve into inflicting pain. It’s why the twitterverse is constantly outraged at Dinesh D’Sousa and Donald Trump and Peter Singer and the rest of the folks who (as you point out) are unfazed. The pain infliction becomes increasingly important *because* they do not repent.

    (And the same folks who have turned sour on attempting to get any of these folks to act like humans are often the ones spearheading the penance-demand on just random guy or gal).Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Patrick says:

      I think it has more to do with the addictive nature of the hormones that are released when we get in a fight.

      Since Arguing On The Internet carries a very low risk of being punched in the face, there’s no immediate negative feedback for starting a fight. (And depending on who you picked a fight with, there might not be any negative feedback at all.) So there’s nothing to tell a person “starting this fight led to an undesirable outcome, and the only way to avoid that outcome is to not start fights”. And people find that being angry and mean is fun; it makes them feel excited and engaged and powerful.

      There’s also the long-running theme in American culture that it’s okay to be a jerk so long as you’re a jerk to the right people for the right reasons. We saw it in Salem when they burned women, we saw it in the 1950s when they blacklisted people for being Communists, we saw it in the 70s in 80s with all the revenge-porn movies, we’re seeing it now with social media shaming.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Patrick says:

      @patrick “It’s why the twitterverse is constantly outraged at Dinesh D’Sousa and Donald Trump and Peter Singer and the rest of the folks who (as you point out) are unfazed.”

      Another bit I would add to what you’ve said in your comment is that the three people you’ve mentioned in the bit I carved out there all (in different ways) profit mightily off of that outrage against them. When we rail against them over social media, we’re actually not working against them so much as for them.Report

  9. DensityDuck says:

    As Warren Ellis put it, “the Internet is the world’s largest Milgram experiment. You push a button and a stranger in a room far away feels pain.”Report

  10. LeeEsq says:

    A lot of social justice talk about privilege and the like strikes me as using enlightenment posturing to bully others. Humanity is still a monkey troop in many ways.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      The punching up/down dynamic is one that doesn’t scale that well.

      Sure, it works for comedy.
      It works less well when we’re talking about actual punching.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        It doesn’t even work for comedy. The staff of Charlie Hebdo could make a good faith argument that their Muhammed pictures were punching up because they were making fun of Islam the reactionary, patriarchal religion just like they mocked reactionary Christianity in the past. Their critics can argue that they were punching down because Islam is mainly practiced by persecuted people of color that are facing a lot of unearned distrust from Westerners. Both arguments are completely right.Report

      • Zane in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think the punching up/down thing is problematic in part because most individuals aren’t consistently only “up” or “down” to other individuals. It’s more complicated than that.

        Power isn’t usually a binary between individuals. At the extremes, it can be a bipolar relationship, but in most social interactions it isn’t.

        That’s part of the reason that I like the idea of “privilege”. It isn’t an either/or thing. It’s contextual. I don’t think we can think about a woman who’s the CEO of Fortune 500 company being catcalled by laborers and say “well that person has the power, so this interaction means x”.

        (I recognize that the subtleties about privilege I endorse are often ignored by people who use the term.)Report

        • j r in reply to Zane says:

          The problem with the punching up/punching down analogy is that it begs the question. If the people having these arguments could agree on what was up and what was down, they wouldn’t be having the argument in the first place. Or they would be having some other argument.Report

    • veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

      True, but a lot of privilege talk is actually correct. But more, why single out privilege talk when literally most things humans talk about can be done with posturing and bullying? So why this? Why is this the topic you want to disarm in particular?

      The answer is obvious.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

        I signal it out because I do front line actual social justice work in real life. I do not like accusations and insinuations that I’m one of the enemy.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to LeeEsq says:

          “Why can’t you people understand that I’m not the enemy” is the new “some of my best friends are black”.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Even worse when those insinuations come from people whose sum total of social justice labor is to participate in twitter shame mobs.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Hey, I also pay my taxes!Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Yes, I agree absolutely. I represent undocumented aliens for a living, which is definitely social justice work regardless of your opinions on undocumented aliens. Getting told by people whose commitment to social justice is enlightenment preening on social media that I’m an oppressive, white man capitalist pig is not nice.Report

  11. greginak says:

    Sort interesting to see parallels between the justice and shame talk here and Burt’s post about the death penalty. Americans just love some righteous retribution.Report

  12. zic says:

    I have this other theory: A large part of shaming stems from avoiding our own weaknesses, foibles, and things that we’re ashamed of, and we avoid that self-shame by projecting it on the shameful actions of others.

    If someone’s regularly participating in shame fests on twitter, worth asking what mirror they’re avoiding.Report

  13. Michael M. says:

    How does the most recent (that I’m aware of) incident of public shaming with consequences fit into your narrative, @tod -kelly ? In a nutshell: white high school baseball player goes on a racist rant after a game; said rant captured on video, which gets shared on social media; baseball player loses his scholarship to Cal State Northridge.

    Should Northridge write off his tirade as youthful indiscretion, forgive, forget and reward this kid with a scholarship? Or does setting an example that there are consequences for vile public behavior matter more than forgiveness and college baseball?

    Before the advent of social media, not to mention ubiquitous video capture, it’s doubtful this kid would have faced much or any repercussions for his actions. Is it such a bad thing that, now, he does?Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Michael M. says:

      @michael-m I’m going to answer your three questions separately here, because I think they need to be taken one at a time.

      1. “How does the most recent incident of public shaming fit into your narrative?”

      I’m not sure that it does or doesn’t fit into my narrative. I’m not making the claim that good can’t come from public shaming, or that all social media shaming is directed at unworthy people.

      If we are largely driven to mock, punish and shame others through vehicles like Twitter, *and* if most of our connects on such a platform (aside from friends) are made because of previous mockings, punishments and shaming of others that we either loved or despised and so wanted more, *and* if the people who fall under our wrath are somewhat arbitrary (e.g.: Justine Sacco’s tweet needs to be loudly condemned, tweets about raping her not so much), then over the course of time we are going to shame, punish and mock a whole lot of people who deserve it.

      2. “Should Northridge write off his tirade as youthful indiscretion, forgive, forget and reward this kid with a scholarship?”

      At to what Northridge should do in such a situation, my answer is that it should be completely decoupled from what people on social media say.

      Mind you, I think there’s an argument to be made that if eliminating racism is really our goal, then the best way to do it is through integration (in every sense of that word). Is that boy caught in that video more likely to change his point of view and raise less racist children than his parents did if he goes to college and begins interacting with people who (I assume) have different more tolerant views of blacks, or if he’s stuck working at the AM/PM having out with the same kids he grew up with every night?

      (I don’t actually know the answer to that question, because I don’t know the guy from Adam. He may be redeemable, or he may just be one of those people who’s an asshole because he likes being an asshole.)

      3. Is it such a bad thing that, now, he does [face repercussions]?

      Absolutely not. As I said above, if we’re going to use social media in this fashion, we’re going to hit the target as often as not. In fact, we’ll probably hit it more.

      But we shouldn’t kid ourselves about *why* we do it.

      We may or may not have just ruined this guy’s life; if we have, he may or may not have deserved it. Doesn’t really matter to us. Just like it doesn’t really matter to us what Justine Sacco’s, Lindsey Stone’s, or Adria Richards’s lives are like now, or whether or not they really deserved that level of punishment.Report

      • j r in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        At to what Northridge should do in such a situation, my answer is that it should be completely decoupled from what people on social media say.

        This is the big thing for me. There are good and bad decisions that Cal Street Northridge can take in this situation, but I’d be fooling myself if I pretended that I knew which was which from my completely detached position as a guy who read an article on the internet.

        I’ve said before, that the phrase “court of public opinion” is a rather significant misnomer, because what goes on in the public is not much at all like what goes on in a courtroom. Courts deliberate and deliberate is the exact opposite of what happens in a social media shitstorm.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Tod Kelly: we’re going to hit the target as often as not. In fact, we’ll probably hit it more.

        Of course that still leaves the question of what do we do when we hit the undeserving. Who makes them whole?

        Although, given our attitudes toward criminal justice, I suspect the answer will be a big fat, “eh…”Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Of course that still leaves the question of what do we do when we hit the undeserving. Who makes them whole?

          Undeserving of what?

          More seriously, Orwell’s “Revenge is Sour” comes into play here. He was talking about Nazis (like, for real Nazis). So much of this public shame thing is “revenge” rather than “justice”.

          To encourage the others.Report

  14. Damon says:

    This is one reason why I’m not on social media much and never tweet.

    First off, I find most of what people say on social media inane and I can’t see how anyone would be interested or care what I have to say.

    Second, people are stupid, brutish, quick to take umbrage, and don’t seem to have critical thinking skills, and in group settings, cruel, evil, and quick to attack “the other”, or panic. Add the ease of social media to put forth your id (nice comment above guys) and it’s all coming together nicely into a perfect lynch mob.

    I realized a while back that the best thing for me is to not give a damn what anybody thinks about me or my opinions. With a few exceptions of course.Report

    • Cardiff Kook in reply to Damon says:

      This plus 1000.

      It is also why I quit even using my first name here (and on most other sites,) even though regulars will still all know who I am. One of my regrets is in my first guest post, Erik accidentally used my real full name.Report