The National – Social Media Shaming

The National, one of Canada’s best news programs, recently showed a piece about social media shaming. I first heard about it through Brianna Wu, a game developer who is on a couple of podcasts I listen to and was featured in the piece because of the various abuse she has received right up to attempts on her life.

The piece looks at how we can completely destroy somebody’s life, often without thinking too much of a nasty comment and usually without any actual malicious intent (although there are some exceptions, like the people trying to kill Brianna).

I’ve tried to eliminate ever using the public shaming route. If we are defining shame as a decreasing in sense of worth, that’s never a good thing. Our value never changes to God – we are always infinitely valuable – and that should be how we see each other, too. What does it accomplish, really? We might feel better for a bit about ourselves, knowing that they’ve been put in their place as inferior to us – the standard bully boost to self-esteem. That doesn’t last long, but the harm done in those attacks often do.

When was the last time somebody changed their mind on a really controversial issue because 20,000 strangers on the Internet yelled at them? It might make them too scared to use the Internet again, but if it was a genuine belief, it’s not going to change. Even if it was just a bad joke, they may learn to be more careful about who they say it around, but does it change the way they think? Probably not. Plus if everybody else is already tweeting at someone why they are wrong, does one more actually help resolve the conflict in any way? When you fight fire with fire, fire still wins. The fact that it is your mob’s fire instead of their’s doesn’t really matter.

We should differentiate conviction or discernment from shame. Sometimes a terrible, harmful idea was shared publicly and people are buying into it. It is worthwhile to spend some time explaining why I think that idea is harmful. Note: it is not why that person is terrible, or stupid, or should be fired or raped or killed, or anything like that. It’s simply saying, “I think this idea is wrong and dangerous and here’s why.” They may never read my answer – probably won’t considering the scale of this blog or my Twitter – but somebody might who was wrestling with the harmful idea and I may be able to help them. That’s important, just as it is important to not destroy the worth of somebody else just because I think they said something problematic.

Discuss ideas, but value all people, including those with ideas you deem harmful. They carry God’s image just like you and honouring that is always more important than a self-esteem boost of being a part of the right mob. Overcome evil with good, not with evil on different victims.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.