Was 2017 the Rise of Online Shaming?

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Do you know, right now, what the Internet is saying about you? Could one careless tweet cost you your job? Are nude photos of you lingering on your ex’s smartphone? Could one angry customer trash your small business? Will a potential romance cool because of what’s been posted about you online?

How likely is it that any of that will happen?

More likely than you think.

In today’s digitally driven world, countless people are being electronically embarrassed every day. Stories of troll attacks, revenge porn, sexting scandals, email hacks, webcam hijackings, cyberbullying, and screenshots gone viral fill our newsfeeds. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 66 percent of adult Internet users say they have witnessed online harassment and 67 percent of adult Internet users under the age of thirty have personally experienced it.

Given events like the 2014 Sony Pictures email hack that leaked studio heads’ private messages and the 2015 Ashley Madison breach that revealed the identi­ties of millions of alleged philanderers, it is clear that we are all potentially one click away from being unwillingly thrust into the Internet glare.

And what awaits us there? A nation of finger-wagging vultures who delight in tormenting us and tearing our reputa­tions to shreds. This culture of destroying people with the simple stroke of a keyboard has become much more than a fad—it’s the new normal. In a survey conducted by YouGov, 28 percent of Americans admitted to engaging in malicious online activ­ity directed at somebody they didn’t even know.

How have we become this “Shame Nation,” where we are constantly hurling our collective outrage at an endless supply of fresh victims? And is there anything we can do to stop this, before it affects us or the people we love?

Of course, shaming in America dates as far back as the days of the Puritans, when those deemed to have crossed their thin moral line were subject to being stoned, scorned, thrown into stocks, or worse. Just a generation ago, an embarrassing gaffe might have been written up in the local paper or gossiped about over backyard fences until it was old news. But today is much different. The Internet has eternal life and boundless reach, and victims of a digital disaster must learn to live forever with the implications of that high-tech “tattoo.”

As Jennifer Jacquet, an assistant professor of environmental studies at New York University, writes in her book Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, “The speed at which information can travel, the frequency of anonymous shaming, the size of the audience it can reach, and the perma­nence of the information separate digital shaming from shaming of the past.”

“I can’t believe the posted that!”

From some of our U.S. Marines sharing nudes of their female colleagues, to the leader of our land mocking journalists and throwing insults on Twitter, this past year has us questioning people that should be role-models as civility is dipping both offline and especially online.

In 2017 shaming the defenseless (baby bashing) was in the news again. In Jacksonville, Florida two Navy hospital corpsmen allegedly posted a video and photos of newborns to Snapchat, including a picture showing one of them flipping the middle finger with the caption, “How I currently feel about these mini Satans.


It seems these Navy corpsmen had a short memory from the Dani Mathers case in 2016. Although the images are no longer on Snapchat, they were quickly shared on Facebook and the outrage spread on social media.

Being smart doesn’t shield you from making dumb digital choices

In the spring of 2017 the brightest and smartest college applicants taught us all a lesson about how your posts can come back to haunt you. After being accepted at Harvard University, 10 students made headlines when their acceptances were revoked due to obscene social media content they posted. Another reminder of how your online behavior is a reflection of your offline character — not only to college admissions but to employers too.

At the end of 2017 Juli Briskman found herself jobless when she violated the code of conduct policy after the infamous finger flipping incident that went viral. The majority of businesses today have social media polices in place. They consider their workers an extension of their brand online and off.

What will 2018 bring us?

We’re a nation where the majority of people are armed with smartphones. We’re no longer afforded the luxury of an oops moment without risking it going viral. For parents this can be particularly challenging since everyone seems to have an opinion on how to raise your child. There’s certainly no shortage on parent shaming and judgy moms.

Interestingly as we read about these stories, the common denominator is these are adults that are behaving badly. As a society we are (and should be) concerned about educating our youth in areas of cyberbullying prevention and digital literacy, but have we forgotten about the adults?

Technology gives everyone, especially bullies, a larger audience. People that are usually a weak person in real life, can become bold online, however studies have shown that anyone can be a troll. Having a bad day, wake up on the wrong side of the bed — and you too can leave an ugly comment.

Choosing kindness and compassion in an age of cruelty and trolling

Civility in America survey said that 75 percent of Americans believe that change begins with us, and 66 percent of people have actually started asking their friends and family to be nicer to each other — online.

It’s more than choosing kindness, it’s about being empathetic towards others that are struggling online or being targeted. Being an upstander - as an adult. Not perpetrating hate, forwarding mean memes or engaging in cyber-combat that won’t end well.

Isn’t it time we take this 2017 Shame Nation and move it to a sane one?

Aren’t we all ready for a kinder 2018? I am.

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