Thursday, July 18, 2013

Public Shaming and Social Media

It's surfaced a few times on my social media feeds in the last week.  Public Shaming, it's called, a progressive/lefty social media site (on tumblr, in this instance) that serves one purpose.

That purpose: to highlight racist/ignorant comments on social media, and then turn the ire of those who are outraged at such comments against the individual in question.  You're invited to google it...but it's a wee bit profane.  Well, actually, it swears like a sailor with Turettes.  Just so's ya know.

It was active around the Asiana airlines crash, publicly humiliating those insensitive enough to make that an opportunity for jokes about race.  And then I saw it again today, as it called out a half-dozen or so twitter users who made racist and ignorant assumptions about singer Marc Anthony as he sang at a baseball game.

The folks tweeting were...well...not bright, and not pleasant.  Being of Latino heritage and fluent in Spanish doth not make a person 1) Mexican or 2) Not American.   And what they posted, without exception, was shameful.  But as this site and others like it get more purchase, I found myself wondering what reaction it was stirring out there.

What does public humiliation look like in the social media era?   I went to the twitter feed of one @G_Lewis19 to find out.  He'd tweeted the following bit of nastiness to our collective consciousness:

"Why is some Spanish [fornicate] singing God Bless America at the All Star Game? That's just wrong"

Contemptible, without question.  And...well...stupid.  And racist.  All of those things.  So I searched for his account.

There, I observed the reaction, fueled by the shaming site.

Hundreds of responses, pages and pages of them.  I scrolled down for a while.

Some were measured.  Most were rather less so.  A sample, redacted as needed:

"Get educated dumb [fornicate]!" 
"You dumb white trash [fornicate]!!!!"  
"I hate dumb[fornicates] that talk [excrement] about r culture...Glewis beware!"  
"you ugly [fornicating] short white trash. He's American you dumb [fornicate.]" 
"[Fornicate] your apologies you said there is no coming back from being scum you hateful [genitalia]..." 
"so ur the moron who think latins can sing an american song guess what fagot puertorricans are as americans as anyone else."

And so on, and so forth. Hundreds of these.  From the comments, it was clear that the offender had attempted an apology, and then stopped as the tide of hatred continued, and then fled.  The account itself is no longer accessible, at least as of this writing.

Other accounts targeted for racist comments were still up, with various reactions.  One appeared to be an attention troll, the sort of web denizen who thrives on that sort of thing, and was continuing to blissfully spew out nastiness in a sea of vitriolic response.  But most shut down.

And I wonder...just what does this help, precisely?  What does using media as a lens to bring the outrage of hundreds or thousands onto an individual actually do?  Sure, there are ignorant people out there.  But connecting them with people who are filled with hatred for their stupidity seems unlikely to create ground for reconciliation or understanding.

Hatred has, in the long and blighted history of our species, never managed to do much of anything but engender more hatred.  And shaming, humiliation, and verbal abuse of a complete matter how much of an idiot/moron/knuckledragger they may in actuality be...also doesn't tend to improve things.

It's not particularly good for changing the blighted spirit of a racist, any more than beating a bad dog makes them a better dog.

But it's also not good for those who feel that surge of insta-media outrage and umbrage, vent at a stranger, and then move on through their day.   It stirs a sense of agitation that more likely than not does not actually mirror their reality.  It shifts and shapes us into holding an adversarial understanding of being.

And that seems like the last thing we need in our culture.  That, we already have aplenty.