Public Shaming: The New Bully

Some recent public shaming incidents mystified me and prompted me to look into this growing phenomenon.

According to their article: “The Ethics of Public Shaming”  Chad Cusworth, Brian Daniels and Emily Rondi, stated that:

“Ethical issues concerning technology are only going to increase as technology and the Internet progress and become more advanced. Certainly, this would be an inappropriate and dangerous way to use technology, but the issue of using the Internet for public shaming is also a serious issue. It is because of the slippery slope that there must be regulations and guidelines for what can and cannot be on the Internet in relationship to criminals. There should be uniformity among jurisdictions within and among states in regards to video of courtroom hearings on the Internet.”
(for the full article see:

The above excerpt relates to shaming in judicial situations in regards to criminals, in particular sex offenders.  This method of corrective measure in legal circles, may have its place when wanting to protect children from sexual predators. Nevertheless, we should wonder whether the kind of public shaming that seems to become commonplace in society and on the increase, is warranted, ethical and justifiable.

Take the incident with the man who repeatedly kicked his dog, and appeared to enjoy  it. His actions had been recorded on someone’s smart phone and then uploaded to You Tube.  The ensuing public rage, tweets and comments were well beyond the man’s “crime”. Of course he shouldn’t have mistreated his pet, but the  extent to which people resorted to shaming the individual was, in its  viciousness, unwarranted. The man publicly apologized and expressed remorse – also via You Tube.  To no avail, vitriolic comments continue to this day and there is no way to stop it.  By his own admission, his life has been severely impacted, and he stands powerless to alter it.

Another case involved public figures.  Fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana hosted a special fashion event promoting family values. Traditional family values that is.  The event was a great success.  In an interview with Panorama, the pair opined that children should belong to traditional families. They disagreed with surrogate or artificially created children. To be sure,  when stating: ‘children of chemistry, synthetic children”etc. they triggered a tsunami of indignation.  A more thoughtful choice of words by the pair, might have had a more restrained reaction – maybe. Nonetheless this was the pair’s opinion and in a democratic society, they still have the right to freedom of expression, or do they? One must remember, both men are gay and were, at one point, an item.  Their point of view therefore carries certain weight.

What a debacle!   One of the most vociferous was no less than Sir Elton John. In an Instagram he retorted: “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic.’” Then immediately mounted a boycott campaign on the duo wit the hash tag BoycottDolceGabbana.

Naturally in the same way that Dolce & Gabbana should be entitled to their opinion, so should Elton John. The latter however, should have stayed clear of boycotting or, of what actually amounts to rallying the masses to a public shaming campaign.

The first incident, for ever impacted a man unknown to society, who apologized repeatedly for having mistreated his dog. The latter concerns a celebrity who took Dolce & Gabbana’s comments as a personal attack, although the fashion designers never named names, nor insinuated anyone in particular. (It is doubtful that they will suffer great  economic loss because Elton John and his following decided to never again buy their clothes.)

Who, however, has given Elton John or any of us for that matter, the right to be judge and jury on the actions and points of view of others? It may not always be politically correct but that is what a free society tolerates, or does it?

Public shaming, outside the legal parameters (that has yet  to be proven effective) is gratuitous. Which one of us can say we didn’t ever speak our mind, only to realize that the way we said it might be wrongly understood. It might even offend – but who doesn’t get offended at some point or another?  Same goes for rash actions that we might regret later on. So off we go on a campaign to shame the “offender”.  Why? Because we didn’t like what the other did or said? Because it hurt our sensitivities? Does it consequently give us the right to self-righteously commit character assassination?  Maybe we need to sober up and stop this kind of bullying right in its tracks, before it does untold and irreversable damage.

Let’s compare whether there is any difference between public shaming and bullying.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), bullying is defined as:
” . . .repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more         perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is : > Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
> Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
> Verbal abuse”
In school environment, defines bullying as:
“aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

Don’t these definitions resonate with public shaming below?  The intended goal is the same, to humiliate, intimidate the object of our shaming.

According to
“Public shaming is a judicial punishment imposed on a convicted criminal that includes humiliation in public instead of imprisonment. ”

That public shaming is used in the judicial system, is already tenuous and continues to engender ongoing debate.

According to the free dictionary shaming is defined as: abuse, aspersion, defamation, humiliation, disgrace. To bring dishonor or disgrace on someone, etc.

Perhaps the bullies who can no longer do so freely have now found an outlet through public shaming. After all,  it does make one feel powerful to destroy another, with impunity, in the anonymity of the internet.

Maybe we need to consider why we overreact  and then attack  someone’s words or actions. When Elton John went on  a tearing campaign to publicly shame Dolce & Gabbana, did such give anyone license to jump on that bandwagon like a pack of ravenous wolves? It does unfortunately demonstrate our propensity for mob mentality, and doesn’t speak well of independent and reasoned thinking.

In the past public shaming was done through lynching; now we lynch through #twitter, Facebook, You Tube and all and sundry social media at our disposal.

Shame on the shamers.

Perhaps this worrying trend will stop once we recognize that bullying and public shaming are on the same wavelength. Both are unacceptable.

You may also like to read  this article:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s