Let me start by admitting, I thoroughly enjoyed Xiaxiue's take-down of Grace Tan this Thursday. For a moment I feared that the delicate Grace, who stressed out so much just from a brief interaction with the top blogger many months ago, would snap under the pressure of public shaming. But as Grace continued making snide remarks, and showed her true colors of an online bully, I could not help to feel a sense of justice being served.
But then on Friday, the local social media scene was swept of their feet, with the act of kindness and heroism, as two foreign workers helped a stranded toddler. Aside from expressing fondness for heroes hiding in plane sight, many were extremely judgmental towards the parents of the toddler. Dissecting their personal possessions and lifestyle, without knowing the full story, many were more than ready to pass harsh judgment, and even demand punishment for the parents.
My heart broke when I saw the mom sobbing in front of the camera. You can have no doubt that she is going though a personal nightmare. A nightmare made so much worse by the feeling of public shame.
Public shaming is a centuries long practice, and our ancestors used to use it to impose certain behavioral norms on those who strayed. Being shamed was a persons chance for redemption and correction.
But in the era of social media, shaming is not focused on correction and redemption. It has become distinctively... entertaining. Anonymous people online can suddenly take a position of power towards the shamed person. Judgments can be produced freely and without consequences for the "judge". Hurtful words and unfounded theories passed around in a spirit of buzzing excitement.
I think social media transformed public shaming into a form of entertainment (shame-tertainment?). But as we throw virtual stones, are we becoming less compassionate, and more hedonistic? Is it still about public discussion on what is acceptable, or is it just about watching someone suffer public scorn?
I do believe we need to openly talk about social issues, and point out bad behaviors. That's why I would never say that bloggers or media pointing out bad behaviors are doing something wrong (on the contrary - we do need to bring public attention to many of those issues). But I do fear we, readers and consumer of media, are developing an unhealthy habit of enjoying those instances in a wrong way, and rather than develop empathy and social sensitivity, we get way to comfortable with being judgmental.
If you have a moment, do listen to this speech, by Monica Lewinsky: