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February 13, 2015

Former Twitter Shame-Leader Interviews Shame-Victims for NYT

You Have Been Altruistically Punished.

First the writer Jon Ronson (What? Fake name, dude) establishes his bona fides as an online Bully for Righteousness:

In the early days of Twitter, I was a keen shamer. When newspaper columnists made racist or homophobic statements, I joined the pile-on. Sometimes I led it. The journalist A. A. Gill once wrote a column about shooting a baboon on safari in Tanzania: "I'm told they can be tricky to shoot. They run up trees, hang on for grim life. They die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out." Gill did the deed because he "wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger."

I was among the first people to alert social media. (This was because Gill always gave my television documentaries bad reviews, so I tended to keep a vigilant eye on things he could be got for.) Within minutes, it was everywhere. Amid the hundreds of congratulatory messages I received, one stuck out: "Were you a bully at school?"

Still, in those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.

Eventually I started to wonder about the recipients of our shamings, the real humans who were the virtual targets of these campaigns. So for the past two years, Iíve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow --deeply confused and traumatized.

It's a good article. Remember that woman who got pilloried for giving the finger to a sign that said to show respect at Arliington National Cemetery?

That was apparently part of a series of in-joke pictures-- she and her friend always made it a point to disobey all signs and take a picture of themselves doing it, like smoking right in front of a no-smoking sign.

That really puts a different light on her snapshot of ignominy.

Speaking of pillorying, the author looks back at a period in which Public Shaming was even more important in public life in America -- the period before the Revolutionary War.

He also turns to some of the people who gleefully led the Mobs against inconsequential strangers.

Spoiler Alert: Sorry, they're not sorry.

Really good piece. I would quote more, but it deserves the clicks.

Oh, and we just talked about this phenomenon -- altruistic punishment, though it often looks decidedly less than altruistic -- with John Sexton. Give it a listen, or else I'll blacken your name and lead a mob against you.



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posted by Ace at 04:52 PM

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