Online shaming has a pretty nasty reputation, and usually for good reason. Its relentless punishment has nearly ruined the lives of several victims for honest mistakes such as a tweet taken out of context or an image with potentially offensive implications. Although online shaming gets a bad rap thanks to those who abuse their right to online anonymity, in certain cases it can actually serve as a powerful tool in helping weaker voices overcome the wrongdoings of influential decision makers.
“Each incident of online shaming should be taken on a case-by-case basis,” says Jennifer Jacquet, writer of Is Shame Necessary? and assistant professor at NYU. “I think it’s important that we don’t have the knee-jerk reaction that all shaming, online or off, is bad, but that we analyze the cases we disagree with and the cases we agree with or disagree much less with and ask ourselves why.”
Although Jacquet’s stance in regards to online shaming might seem a bit controversial at first, she makes a fantastic point! In fact, this is a point that can be easily backed up by several recent news stories that inspired the creation of this article. In these cases, online shaming stood as a highly visible platform for everyday social media users like you and me to speak out on important issues and actually be heard. These cases sparked change and served social justice where they were long overdue.
Still think online shaming is all wrong? Here are six times it actually did some good in the world.
1.Pharma Bro stands down in response to online backlash
Image credit: Tech Times
Former hedge fund manager, Martin Shkreli (or as I like to call him, Pharma Bro) had the Twitterverse up in arms this past month after announcing a ridiculous price hike in a potentially life-saving medication for AIDS patients.
The medication which has been on the market for years was previously priced at $13.50 per pill. When Pharma Bro bought the rights to the medication’s patent in September, he decided it would be a good idea to set the new price at $750 per pill. His defense was that the substantial price increase would help stimulate additional research to discover a new, potentially more complete medication.
Naturally, news that the medication had been rendered unaffordable to patients in need didn’t go over well with people of the world who actually have souls and hearts and stuff…
Here is the hedge fund prick turned pharmaceutical dealer responsible for 5,000% markup on AIDS medication: @MartinShkreli
— Casey (@pari_passu) September 21, 2015
— GHOULS (@thebirdroads) September 21, 2015
After two days of pretty thorough internet shaming which included the release of Shkreli’s personal info, threats to release his employees’ info, and of course, troughs of hardcore trolling tweets like those listed above, Shkreli let up. In an interview with ABC News, he said that the price would be reduced “to a point that is more affordable and is able to allow the company to make a profit but a very small profit.”
So, is Shkreli still a complete and total jerk? Yeah, probably. The price has yet to be lowered even weeks after his interview with ABC. At least he’s had to face some serious consequences following his selfish move. Fortunately, all the online attention Shkreli got for being a jerk inspired another company to undercut him by providing the same drug for less than $1/capsule. That means the medication’s price is even lower than it was before thanks to all this commotion!
2.Airlines defend Cecil’s honor
Image credit: BBC.com
Animal lovers were distraught and social media in a stir following the killing of Hwange National Park’s beloved lion, Cecil, this past summer in Zimbabwe. A dentist from the United States paid a rather large sum in exchange for permission and a clear shot to kill him. Outrage ensued on all social platforms to defend Cecil’s honor and speak out against the trophy hunting epidemic taking place overseas. With this, airlines started to receive criticism for facilitating trophy hunting by allowing hunters to bring their bounty back with them. Social media spoke and major airlines listened. Delta, American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, South African Airways, and others announced similar policy changes to ban the shipment of several exotic animal trophies. This included bans on the shipment of lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and buffalo.
Effective immediately, we will no longer transport buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion or rhino trophies. — American Airlines (@AmericanAir) August 4, 2015
3.Shamed sorority sisters use publicity to raise support against domestic violence
Image credit: 120 Sports
When a group of sorority girls took to the Arizona Diamondbacks stands for a sisterly outing, social media obsession was seen at its absolute worst… or so we thought. FOX commentators poked fun at the girls for their shameless selfie taking at one point in the game. Of course, this went viral, starting some serious Internet shaming against this group of girls from Alpha Chi Omega’s ASU chapter. What the online world making fun of the girls along with the commentators didn’t know is that fans were asked to take photos for a TMobile selfie contest just moments before the girls were caught taking the pics.
Image credit: @ctnicolas
In an attempt to right some wrongs after online shaming ensued, FOX News offered the girls free tickets to another game. Rather than accept this chance for another solid selfie session, the girls politely declined. Instead, they asked that the tickets be given to families at a local shelter who had been victims of domestic violence.
That’s right, these women used the publicity they had earned to bring awareness to a larger issue affecting communities across the globe. They also set a solid example by shutting down the sorority girl stereotype implied by the commentators and putting the needs of others before their own interests. Kudos to you, ladies!
Image credit: Alpha Chi Omega ASU
4.“Ugliest woman” turns the table on online haters
Image credit: Rixbury.com
Lizzie Velasquez is a young woman with a rare condition that keeps her from gaining weight. She was bullied for her condition in school starting at a very young age. When Lizzie was 17, this bullying took on a new form in the cyber world. She came across a video in which she was featured as the “ugliest woman in the world.” Below the video, she found hateful comments about the way she looked.
This could’ve crushed Lizzie, but she refused to let her cyberbullies win. She set out to create a YouTube channel of her own to tell her story and introduce the world to the real Lizzie. Although she didn’t directly shame her cyber bullies in her videos, she did tell a story that captivated the masses and helped her build a strong support group against those who judged her so harshly based on her appearance.
A key thing to note here is the difference between the cyberbullies who posted the video of her, and her response that called for an end to body shaming.
When asked how/if online shaming and cyberbullying differ from one another, Jaqucet said, “There is obviously some overlap, but I tend to think of cyber bullying and bullying in general as when the strong go after the weak and shame as a force that lacks this particular power dynamic.”
Valasquez was picked on at first, but leveraged the power of online influence to flip the switch on her cyberbullies.
5.Ahmed receives praise for scientific aspirations
Another major event that took place recently was the infamous clock incident featuring Ahmed Mohamed and his school faculty and local police department in Irvington, TX.
Ahmed, a teen interested in science, brought his homemade alarm clock to school to show his science teacher. According to Ahmed, when he showed her the clock, she thought it was a threat to her. Ahmed was taken to the principal’s office and later arrested under suspicion that the alarm clock was actually a bomb, or at least a bomb hoax.
The actions taken by the school and local authorities got out of hand when Ahmed was arrested and put in handcuffs in front of his fellow classmates. When local authorities determined that the clock was in fact a clock and not a bomb, they released Ahmed but kept him on a suspension from school. This obviously didn’t go over well…
Image credit: @HAVWKEYE
Social media blew up in outrage over the unfair treatment of Ahmed via #IStandWithAhmed on Twitter. All of the online ruckus attracted the attention of heavy hitters in Silicon Valley like Facebook, Google, and Twitter itself. On top of this, Ahmed got a shout out and White House welcome from none other than President Obama.
Image credit: @POTUS
Image credit: @Twitter
6.The Dancing Man gets a second chance to dance
Image credit: TODAY.com
The mystery of the “Dancing Man” all began when one Reddit user thought it would be funny to post a clip of his friends laughing at a man for dancing at a concert. The clip featured Dancing Man having a good time dancing before realizing he was being made fun of. He quietly put his head down and stopped dancing.
The video went viral – but not for the reasons its publisher had anticipated. Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook blew up to defend dancing man and shut down the bullies behind the video.
One woman went so far as to reach out to her Twitter audience and track down Dancing Man. She hoped to invite him to a dance party full of women who would dance along with him. Pharrell Williams and Moby also reached out in support of her efforts to find the Dancing Man. After word spread of her search, Dancing Man was identified and invited to his very own dance party in LA.
Image credit: Billboard.com
Image credit: HuffingtonPost.com
Although online shaming worked out for the better in each of these instances, its predominantly negative track record proves that the online community still has a lot of work to do before it can consistently make a positive impact on society as a whole.
“Part of the problem with online shaming and why it’s gotten quite out of control is that people don’t really pay the cost of doing the punishing, either because they are anonymous or because they are isolated and dealing with the event through a screen. This leads to disproportionate amounts of punishment for relatively minor transgressions. With the disappearance of anonymity online, which is already happening (on many sites you cannot leave a comment anonymously any longer), I think we can expect to see people behave less badly.”
–Jennifer Jaquet, author of Is Shame Necessary?
So next time you consider hopping on the shaming bandwagon, think before you tweet. Would you make the same comments in person? Think not only about the person on the other end, but about the overall cause and objective. Shaming simply to express hatred is a waste of 140 characters. However, respectfully voicing your opinion online is a uniquely constructive way to stand up against greater causes like price gauging in the pharmaceutical industry, racial profiling in schools and legal systems, and offline body shaming.