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  • Dilip Dave

The Pseudo-Morality of Public Shaming

Social media is considered the best platform to share your views, ideas and connect to various people. But has it become a platform to defame someone or pass judgments in favour and against someone or even give threats? Have people lost faith in the judiciary and legal procedures of the country? Do people get the freedom to do whatever they wish?

A similar condition was noted when the ‘Zomato delivery boy controversy’ came to light. A Bangalore woman named Hitesha Chandranee accused the Zomato delivery boy named K Kamaraj of assaulting her and injuring her nose. After the incident, the woman, who is a model and make-up artist, instead of going to the police and legally filing a complaint against the man, took her phone and recorded her video with a bleeding nose to post on Instagram (with many useless and inappropriate tags). The video, no doubt, became viral, and people showed sympathy towards her and firmly stood against the zomato delivery boy over social media without even knowing his statement on the matter. People accused the delivery boy of assaulting the woman and made him a criminal overnight on social media platforms. Everyone tends to form opinions without listening to both sides. Every coin has two faces, and we should always remember that.

Later on, when K Kamraj (the zomato delivery boy) came forward and took his stand in the matter and also lodged a legal complaint against the woman for her false allegations, the same people showed sympathy towards him, and this time, they were against the woman over social media platforms. Overnight this incident became meme material (which is a new trend nowadays). This time they started giving death threats to the woman, bullied her over social media and accused her of putting false allegations against the innocent delivery boy. This shows how people can easily change their sides and are keen on jumping to conclusions. The same people who had considered the delivery boy to be the criminal now were blaming the woman. This is the perfect example of the dual nature of people in this world.

Now, after some time of the controversy, the woman again explained her situation after the matter that she has been getting death threats, she is being bullied and harassed over social media, and so and so. This shows the intolerant, irresponsible and ruthless behaviour of people threatening and bullying a woman, which is a serious crime. People live in the delusion of social justice warriors and righteousness without knowing the consequences and impacts of such threats and harassment on a woman.

‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

If we go on exploring this topic on social media or the internet, we’ll find a prevalent culture of ‘public shaming’. A book by Jon Ronson named ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ perfectly depicts how the internet can bring miseries in someone’s life. Suppose a person has a social media account posts something which wasn’t meant to hurt anyone, but the people out there find it offending and they start criticising that the person who is even unaware about the situation but later on the matter grows so vast that whole internet backlashes on that person who didn’t have an intention to hurt anyone’s feeling. He/She becomes a victim of public shaming and eventually gets kicked out of his/her job, loses everything and even the hope to live. Would we even be able to justify it or bring back his/her normal life? The answer straight forward is NO. Before publicly shaming anyone or passing hate, we must be sensible enough to think about the consequences.

The author, Jon Ronson, writes about the lives of various people(famous and ordinary) whose whole careers were destroyed because of public shaming. And seeing the rising trend, I’ll recall some of them for our young readers.

The author mentions that there was a woman named Justine Sacco, 30 years old and a senior director of corporate communications at IAC, who used to tweet acerbic little jokes about the indignities of travel. She had just 170 Twitter followers. Before one of her flights, she posted one such joke which goes like – “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She had just 170 followers, and not surprisingly, she had no replies. She turned off the phone and got on the plane. Meanwhile, the joke was retweeted by a Gawker journalist who had 15000 Twitter followers. During her 11 hours long flight, she became the reason for the curiosity of the whole world. People began to criticise her for being racist and her views regarding AIDS, Africa and whatever. Everyone felt offended; they abused her, publically shamed her, made many inhuman statements, demanded her to be fired from her work, even they were waiting for her to land and see what her reaction would be. Everyone was being entertained, and the woman had no idea about it; she didn’t even get the chance to defend herself. She was fired from her work, and this incident made her feel depressed; she began to lose herself, her whole life was destroyed just because of a tweet, and everyone made her the villain. When asked later, she said that she didn’t even mean the joke the way it was taken and made viral. Although the statement might be a little problematic, but the consequences she had to suffer were far more painful than her foolhardy joke. This incident is so disturbing that it makes humans think about their own nature.

Jonah Lehrer

Another example which the author mentions in his book is of a pop-science writer named ‘Jonah Lehrer’ who was caught plagiarising and faking quotes and was drenched in shame and regret through social media, where people destroyed his image, made fun of him, and made him believe that he was even unworthy of apologising. He even decided to apologise for his mistake publicly on the occasion of the foundation launch, and guess what? At the time of his confession over a big wall, they displayed the tweets made against him. The tweets were very disgraceful and shameful. This court formed by the social media users and so-called experts made him so guilty that he lost his job, didn’t get contracts; he and his family suffered a lot. Such incidents force us to think about whether we are using our freedom and brains in proper directions or not. Those people passing disgraceful comments against someone consider themselves to be superior and intellectual. But is it the reality? Keep thinking about this.

One of the recent incidents of public shaming was noticed when Piers Morgan denied agreeing with Meghan Markle and passed a statement that he doesn’t believe a word Meghan Markel says. By this statement, he didn’t really mean to disagree with the fact that she felt suicidal and all the stuff going around in the royal family controversy or so and so. He just made a pretty blanket statement. Is he forced to believe in anything just because it was said by the princess without even knowing the other side? But the result was that a complaint was lodged against him by the royal family. He witnessed a great backlash from social media. Everyone turned up against him, and the so-called intellectuals on social media criticised him. But was it really necessary? If we try to think deeply about the matter, we will find that accusing someone just because he/she made a statement in an interview which was yet to be heard in the court and Pier having a trial and rights with him, was this right anyway to do such a thing over social media? The person lost his job. The reason behind all this could certainly be the victim card that Meghan Markle had. Has our common sense degenerated so much that the victim card becomes the main factor in deciding whether someone is innocent or not? We need to think wisely and take into consideration both sides without blindly believing any story.

Rhea Chakraborty

Similar conditions can be witnessed in many other situations. Just like in the Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide case, people made their opinions and even declared some people guilty and some non-guilty without even knowing the truth. Nobody thought about the consequences and facts. Manipulating someone’s thoughts, provoking him/her is also a severe crime. The social media mobe makes someone a hero and another one the villain, as per their wish. They have got nothing to do with society or with the lives of those whom they consider being nothing beyond the subjects of public scrutiny. If we try to find such stories where public shaming, trolling, and all such stuff destroys someone’s life and makes them helpless, and our search would never end because it has become very common. Even small stories gain hype, and big stories of great importance go unnoticed. Social media was meant to provide a voice to the voiceless, but gradually and eventually, people would be forced to become voiceless if such situations continued.

Social media has indeed provided a platform to express views and ideas freely, but some checks need to be imposed so that people remain concerned about whatever they are doing on these platforms. Always think about the impacts of whatever action you take, even when it is online/virtual.

In the name of freedom of expression and rights, people feel as if they can do whatever they wish, but this is not the case. Their activities can result in some serious consequences if these come under cybercrimes. Even if it is not a crime but hurts the sentiments of someone or damages their image, then we should be thinking morally and ethically. Defaming someone or destroying their lives by passing useless judgment would bring no good to anyone.

The focus here is not about the controversy or who is right and who is wrong, but it is about the impact and use of social media, which is quite prevalent in these times. We should always be following the legal ways first and have faith in the Indian judiciary and legal systems. If we try to be attention and sympathy seekers, then it is not going to help us. Rather it might destroy someone else’s image and life, despite your best of intentions.

Another focus is on how people quickly pass judgments in favour or against someone without even knowing the complete facts and matter over social media. Social media platforms have made people free to pass judgments and defame anyone. Such an approach could destroy someone’s life.

Also, people tend to switch their sides and favour the person supported by the majority or someone they consider to be innocent. This behaviour of humans leads us nowhere but into the profound dilemma of whether all this is right or are we making a mistake.

When such a toxic environment develops, people lose faith, and it is humanity that suffers the most. Giving hype to small and unnecessary things just to gain attention is not the right thing. There are many people who are really having some serious problems and issues. Such cases would go unnoticed due to this unnecessary stuff.

We need to become responsible and understand that social media platforms are meant to share our thoughts and ideas and not to pass judgments or bully or harass someone. These are punishable offences. Before making assumptions about any person/situation, we need to think critically and wisely. Be wise and choose ethical ways on every step of life, even social media life.

By Dilip Dave


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