Pillory anno 2015
Unless the form is changed over time the concept is been known for centuries: the pillory of a person. When a person did something wrong he or she was punished for that by “the public”. During the Stone Age rocks were thrown, in the Middle Ages rotten food was thrown at people and now, during the “digital era” there is a new way to let people be punished by the public: Social media.
Shaming is a quite new phenomenon, but can have very big impact on both people and companies. Just a little mistake, an inappropriate tweet or post can go viral in a very short time. Most of the time the effects are irreversible and can ruin a person or company totally.
For example the case of Justine Sacco: She was 30 years old, senior director of corporate communications and had only 170 followers on twitter. Right before she boarded for her flight from London Heathrow to Cape Town she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”. Her tweet went viral and (off course) not in a positive way. While she was asleep, during her flight she became the nr. 1 trending topic on Twitter. When 11 hours later her flight landed the damage was already done.
Her Twitter feed was filled with angry tweets and it went worse and worse.
“In light of @Justine-Sacco disgusting racist tweet, I’m donating to @care today”
“How did @JustineSacco get a PR job?! Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox News. #AIDS can affect anyone!”
“I’m an IAC employee and I don’t want @JustineSacco doing any communications on our behalf ever again. Ever.”
And then one from her employer, IAC, the corporate owner of The Daily Beast, OKCupid and Vimeo: “This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.”
Not only were people angry with her and was she target of a crusade against racism, the tone changed overtime into excitement and from there into entertainment.
“All I want for Christmas is to see @JustineSacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox/voicemail”
“Oh man, @JustineSacco is going to have the most painful phone-turning-on moment ever when her plane lands”
“We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.”
In an interview she said: “I had a great career, and I loved my job, and it was taken away from me, and there was a lot of glory in that. Everybody else was very happy about that.”.
Another example was last summer with the killing of lion Cecil. Walter Palmer, the American dentist who paid 50.000 dollar to kill the lion was globally shamed for it. According to Dr. Peter Vasterman, media-sociologist social media are ideal to express indignation. First, because it is a easy to do and can be done immediately. Second the chance is quite big that you’ll find support from others. This has an amplifying effect. And there is a problem with the power of social media. According to Mr. Tempelman, IT attorney most people are hanged by the public before they are even convicted.
Hess & Waller conclude that in these digital times the shaming will increase and that for “ordinary” people there is almost no protection, regardless of the question if this person is guilty or not guilty. I think it is good to think about the consequences of “just sharing or retweeting” that one tweet or post. Like seen above, the impact can be way bigger what might be appropriate.
Hess, K. & Waller, L. (2014) ‘The digital pillory: media shaming of ‘ordinary’ people for minor crimes’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural studies, 28,4, pp. 101-111.
Ronson, J. (2015) ‘How one stupid tweet ruined Justine Saccos life’, The New York Times Magazine, 15 February 2015: p. 20
NOS op 3 (2015) ‘Als prooi overgeleverd aan de social media’ 31 July 2015. Available: http://nos.nl/op3/artikel/2049759-als-prooi-overgeleverd-aan-de-social-media.html
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