We live in such an amazing yet scary time where we can put anything on the internet for millions of people to see. And while social media has facilitated creativity, individualism and communication unknown to the world before, it also comes with its own set of problems. The internet has more recently become a breeding ground for hate, bigotry and misunderstanding.
It seems everyone has found a place on there, from innovative speakers sharing new ideas to ignorant attention-seekers. However, these platforms also give the audience their own power: the comments section. With one quick click of a mouse, we can become the vigilante defenders of social justice. We can wreak havoc on those who deserve it. Anyone who has posted racist or misogynistic content can be taken down in an instant.
But just as racism and misogyny show a lack of understanding and hatred towards other groups, is it really in our best interest to reflect that lack of understanding and hatred back at them? Some justify this by saying that these people deserve a shaming because they're bad people. However, I see that as an attempt to rationalize or minimize the impact of social media shaming.
It's just like war to me.
Regardless of whatever side you're on, you're still killing people who may have a family to go home to. The soldiers on both sides are just trying to fight for their countries, and while the country they're fighting for may have malicious intent, the soldiers themselves have done nothing wrong but follow orders to "kill the enemy." In this sense, social media shaming is a new type of warfare. Though the ideas we follow may be "good" or "bad," the people are not.
With that being said, we should not tear down others. But should we not take action against bigotry? In the face of two conflicting values, where should we draw the line?
In order to draw the line, we must understand why people do this. The root of social media shaming seems to come down to three key issues. In theory, the idea of accepting everyone sounds pretty nice, until someone posts something completely stupid. This seems to be the first problem: when we see people with opinions different to us, we can't seem to contain the urge to shame them in ways completely unrelated to their point in the first place.
In fact, the logical fallacy of ad hominem stems from the fact that we get too emotional during a debate. And while it's completely OK to debate on issues to express or influence opinions, it's illogical to insult them as a person, instead of what they stand up for.
Let's use Justine Sacco as an example.
A few years ago, an offhanded tweet from her managed to turn into a Twitter firestorm. Just before going on a flight to South Africa, she tweeted to her 200 or so followers, "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding, I'm white!" In a matter of a few hours, her tweet had gone viral.
Now, I'm going to give an example of an appropriate response and one that is not. While it would've been okay to say something like,"Your tweet is racist, insensitive and not very appropriate for a PR director," most people decided to blow it out of proportion. They decided it would be a good idea to call her a slut, a b*tch or say that she should've gotten AIDS.
In doing so, they embodied the same insensitivity and ignorance that they criticized her tweet for. Words hurt. And while joking about AIDS and white exceptionalism may be offensive, tweets telling someone to kill themselves are destructive.
The second problem (and the one I find the most interesting) is the power of the bandwagon. There seems to be something communal in the entire world banding together to destroy a person. I think this is what makes social media shaming enjoyable. We can make friends, share jokes and have fun all at the expense of a person being targeted. It creates a sense of unity among people whose common goal is to judge people who do not fit in with our current societal norms and expectations.
In fact, the shaming bandwagon is the reason why we choose to keep insulting a person, even after they are already ruined. I honestly don't think many people were truly offended by Justine's tweet. I think they chose to be offended in order to hop on the bandwagon and dole out a serving of justice which, of course, leads me to the last problem.
We all like to imagine ourselves as little batmans running around and stopping hate. Though we can "make the world a better place" at what expense? It seems the reason we demand apologies is so we can dismiss them and insult a person even further for being "fake." It's so hard to convince the world you're capable of remorse after you've screwed up.
We are never satisfied, and it is never enough. Once someone says something disagreeable, they are called a racist, a monster or an evil person. However, these are all just tactics to distance ourselves from others.
The truth is: we like to shame others, but we don't like to feel bad about it. All of these words are thrown around to demonize a person so we can avoid understanding them or thinking about the pain they go through when they see tweets like this. In doing so, we justify our insults based on our limited knowledge of that person and take away from the severity of a word.
It seems that today, everyone can be a racist, a monster or a villain because of one insignificant tweet that makes them a bad person. I don't know if we're trying to make the world a better place or satisfy the need to feel better about ourselves by "standing up for a cause."
So, I think I've found the line for social media shaming. While the internet can be a valuable tool to share opinions and hold others accountable for their actions, it is slowly becoming a toxic environment where we can band together to obliterate the minority. It is a place with a black and white ideology where we can't accept the fact that humans are stupid and magnificent at the same time. What we are doing is ensuring conformity.
In working towards a utopia, we stifle or oppress any person who disagrees. That's why utopias along with dystopias are a bad thing: they limit the diversity that is so wonderful in our world. We shouldn't have too much ugliness, but too much beauty is also scary because of what it takes to get there. So, next time it's hard to leave an annoying comment alone, just remember: you're making the world a better place by not making the world a better place.