Is it okay to name and shame a person online? For example when someone has said or done something hugely sexist or racist, does the world need to know? That was part of the conversation we had yesterday. In the light of the controversial Dove ad and the Harvey Weinstein accusations. Locally, i am thinking of the Penny Sparrow incident of comparing black beachgoers to monkeys and internationally there have been the repeated cases against Bill Cosby as another example.
So i took to Facebook to try and gauge what people think about this after a popular Facebook Live video which looked specifically at the Dove ad and then touched on Naming and Shaming at the end. This is what i asked:
Naming and Shaming online?
[A] It is okay if a person has done something really heinous to name them online so that people are aware of it and there can be consequences?
[B] It is okay if a company has done something really heinous to name them online so that people are aware of it and there can be consequences.
[C] It is okay if a person or company has done something really heinous to name them online so that people are aware of it and there can be consequences?
[D] It is not okay to name and shame someone/a company, but a more appropriate response would be to…
[E] It is never okay to name and shame a person or company ever.
It was not an extensive poll, but of those who participated, the majority answered D, while B and C received a decent amount of votes as well – it seems as if people are a lot quicker to be okay about shaming a company or brand than a person and i would agree with that.
But it was in the comments that accompanied the votes that a clearer picture of what people were thinking was seen:
Amy: C, with the caveat of it being in the same vein of Penny Sparrow type, collective comments, or an issue affecting/impacting many, rather than something that would be better dealt with in a more private setting.
Trevor: D (but replace okay with effective)
Mpho: E. What good does it bring. Most of the time we don’t have all the information and shame people and companies falsely accused
Rachel: D…Shaming the person no, holding them accountable, yes.
E.g. Shaming: Penny you are an ignorant fool who doesn’t know anything!!
Accountable: Penny, your words made me feel hurt and I would like to discuss this situation with you.
To which Trevor added: Ideally coming from someone who knows her, and who she knows values her (which may mean we need stronger links, so people can suggest to others they have a word)
Hilary: I’m really hesitating to answer this. Personally I want to say B or C, but then I think about this public shaming culture we live in and how everyone has their own ideas of what is particularly heinous (that might not agree with my ideas) and how people’s lives can be seriously negatively impacted by it, and then I’m not sure I want to be a part of that shaming culture. But I would want certain people to be held accountable somehow. Just not sure what the solution would be.
Dave: It should be a last resort, when all else you could try has failed. For it to be legal, it has to be in the public interest and it has to be factual and even then it can be contested. It’s too easy and impersonal, which makes it dangerous.
Marieta: It’s not fair to try people or companies in the courts of social media. However, I am glad when people point out racism, as in the case of the Dove ad, because it makes people think. In the case of Penny Sparrow, I do think it was a bit unfair. Would she have had to pay such a hefty fine if her post hadn’t gone viral?
Also, I like that social media provides a platform where you can be warned against the local scammers, i. e. Small businesses who take you for a ride.
Nicholas: B, usually a company had to have many people collectively okay something.
When it comes to individuals, I’ve seen people get called out, but the individual/s calling them out was misinformed. Look at the Vegas shooting, some poor guy got blamed for it and his whole family received death threats. Meanwhile if people had checked any news article they would know it wasn’t the same guy.
More specifically I’m all for naming companies so that change can happen. But shame doesn’t transform people or companies. It just makes them better at hiding. If we live in a world where we must boycott everyone that makes a mistake, empty out the churches and companies today. We’re done. Make your own products, don’t interact with humans anymore.
That was not all of the responses, but help to dig a little deeper into the issues at play and some really good comments made. This is good stuff to wrestle with, which i think is my overall point. This is not stuff we should not have an opinion on. But rather than in a Facebook status, this particular conversation would happen well around a dinner table with a few hours of conversation available.
Probably my favourite answer thought came from Imile:
Being a tit in public requires a public response a la Paul vs Peter and the circumcision thing. But it seems to always escalate to death threats, which is not ok ever.
So maybe just stop being a tit in public, then, okay. Everybody calm the flip down!
The importance of it being dealt with
i personally think that shaming is the wrong word cos it really speaks of quite a heavy, negative, oppressive kind of response. But at the same time i feel like responsibility and accountability are vital and so can we come up with creative and effective ways of seeking those?
Another key factor is looking at who the subject is. In a case like Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, where a number of women have allegedly been preyed upon, there absolutely has to be action that will prevent it ever happening again. Are we more interested in working for the good of the person who has messed up or are we looking to protect present and future victims from it ever happening again? What feeds the beast in these cases, especially when it comes to sexual crimes and other forms of abuse is the silence.
i stumbled upon this excellent piece by Lena Dunham in the light of the Harvey Weinstein accusations where she calls out the men in Hollywood in particular for their silence in the face of an opportunity to speak into a culture that has been known to oppress women for decades.
The accusations against Mr. Weinstein, so clearly outlined and so completely horrifying, seemed impossible to dispute or ignore. I naïvely expected that the reticence that Hollywood’s powerful men have shown, the collective refusal to take sides in he-said she-said narratives, would be crushed in the face of this open secret being revealed definitively.
The reason I am zeroing in on the men is that they have the least to lose and the most power to shift the narrative, and are probably not dealing with the same level of collective and personal trauma around these allegations.
But here we are, days later, waiting for Mr. Weinstein’s most powerful collaborators to say something. Anything. It wouldn’t be just a gift to the women he has victimized, but a message to the women who are watching our industry closely. They need a signal that we do not approve of the abuse of power and hatred of women that is the driving force behind this kind of behavior.
The idea of a sexual predator being on some kind of sexual predator list for the rest of his/her life probably feels quite oppressive to the sexual predator and to anyone who hopes and believes [like i do] that any person can be redeemed and restored and turned around and has the ability to change. But i bet you for the victims or even for other parents in the neighbourhood where a repeat offender has moved, they see it as absolutely necessary and a good thing. Do we err on the side of the victim or the perpetrator? Surely it had to be the victim or the potential victim. There is a consequence to committing a crime and part of that is the lack of communal trust and earned suspicion, at least until definite signs of change are displayed.
This is an issue that clearly has people divided in terms of opinion, but one thing i imagine all of us can agree on:
WE HAVE TO GET THE FACTS STRAIGHT!
False accusations can do the world of damage, and i imagine most of us have been guilty of this in some way. Someone shares a story on Facebook and you share it because of the nature of the headline and find out two days later that that particular actor is actually not dead. So potentially damaging and hurtful. To friends and family. To trust for the people who never find out that the article you shared was false and continue believing and talking about it as if it is true.
So first step when something like this comes across our path is to make sure, as far as possible [which is not always easy these days] that the story is true.
If, for example, a company is being overtly racist in their advertising, then there must be a consequence. What was tricky with the Dove ad was that the ad was removed fairly quickly and so most people saw a screenshot, which only contained half of the ad [which was still problematic, but perhaps not to the extent it would have been if it was the complete ad]. So while i did some research before sharing and commenting, i only saw the full ad a few hours later.
Perhaps a great first step is to ask a question and gather evidence. What i typically find helpful when a story comes across my path [of a celebrity dying, or a really hectic event happening in the world] is google the name of the thing and the word ‘Hoax’ and it will usually have a few articles pointing out that it is a hoax if it is. Snopes.com is another site that is pretty good at helping you ascertain whether the story you are following is true or not.
So we really need to do the work. So many people on social media need to be a lot slower in terms of sharing stuff without doing at least some kind of check on it.
There has to be some action
Then, whatever our opinion on private or public, there really must be some action taken once we find out the story is true. The point Trevor made above about the word ‘effective’ is key. What action is likely to produce the most positive effect in this scenario?
But i would suggest, that in the South African context, sometimes what those who were formerly [and in many cases continue to be] marginalised need to see and know, is that white people respond with “THAT IS NOT OKAY!” when it comes to racism. Sometimes women need to see and know that men respond with “THAT IS NOT OKAY” to sexism and abuse. And so on.
We can be too careful trying not to hurt the perpetrators that we simply entrench, cover up, gloss over what has once again hurt someone and that person can become a victim yet again by the seeming lack of us caring or dealing with is. This is the part i struggle with and what makes me lean towards a name-and-hold-responsible attitude.
Penny, you need to know [and all the black people on the beach need to hear] that what you said was not okay.
Bill Cosby/Harvey Weinstein, you need to know [and all the many victims of your attitude, words and actions over the years] that what you did was not okay.
A private conversation with the accused may skip out the opportunity for the victims to know and hear and see that they are not [still] alone in this. That someone cares. That someone is outraged. That someone is not going to sit around and do nothing.
So that is where i wrestle. And i think it’s important that we do.
The other extreme is for a mob with burning torches and pitchforks to go and lynch or beat up or even kill the perpetrator and i am not okay with that either. i do believe there is an opportunity for redemption for every single human being, no matter what you have done. To respond to a sick crime with violence is just adding another sick crime to the pile. There must be consequence, there must be punishment, there must be restitution where possible, but there also has to be space for rehabilitation.
As a follower of Jesus, i believe i know where that can come from. But that’s a different conversation.
What are your thoughts on the Naming and Shaming? When someone does something blatantly sexist/racist, what is an appropriate way to deal with them, that doesn’t allow them to get off? Please share some ideas in the comments.