To Shame, Or Not To Shame

Note: Political/Social post, not a music-inspired piece.

In my Public Relations class last week, we were discussing public shaming and using the internet or social media for this purpose. We watched an interesting TED Talk featuring Monica Lewinsky, and it sparked the idea for this post. Here’s the link to the TED Talk if you’re interested. TED Talk: Monica Lewinsky (YouTube)


In the era of the Internet and global information, teenagers and young users of social media are growing up in a shame-filled world that can ruin reputations and lives with a simple tweet.

It seems that as of late, your private life isn’t so private. My question is, are we leaning towards a world filled with more honesty, or a world filled with more anger and distrust? Today I’m going to discuss my thoughts on public shaming and the damages that our online comments can do.

Context and background information are important when it comes to issues like public shaming. Finding out that a world leader is taking money from a KKK member would be a big deal that people should know about. (That example is completely fabricated to make a point.)

Compare that with the true story of an 18-year-old boy, who was illegally video recorded having a private moment with another male. The webcam video was released and the online shaming became so bad that this 18-year-old kid took his own life.

Now your witty comments and rude jokes don’t feel so good, do they? My point is that our words are very powerful, whether they come from a keyboard or from our lips.

As an avid user of social media and this new fad known as the Internet, I feel torn on the issue of shaming and the transparency of people’s private information. On one hand, I really believe that certain people’s information, not all of it, should be public.

If I’m going to vote for certain person, I’d like to know where their funds come from and what motivates their decisions. I think there are some benefits to our ability to quickly spread information if we find out something important. Let me finish before you think I’m some online assassin waiting to jump at anything controversial.

Having politicians’ or corrupt people’s bullshit put into the public’s eye is a good thing.

For example, here’s a quote from Stephen Harper during last year’s election. Incase you forgot, the legalization of cannabis was a major issue in Canada’s recent federal election.

“Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse and it’s something that we do not want to encourage,” Harper said.

Many highly educated people in the country know that this statement is completely false, and Harper wasn’t “shamed” for these comments. However, after a quick Google search and some online investigating, people could quickly find that Harper has previously invested large funds into the tobacco industry, which could suffer dramatically as we see cannabis legalized.

That’s an example of when knowledge of someone’s “private” dealings is a good asset for the public to have. It showed me that my previous prime minister wasn’t up to date with current science, and that his own agenda was influencing actions that cause hundreds of Canadians to be arrested for using a plant that makes them happy.

I know that there are some benefits to having a person’s secrets revealed, but I can’t help but see “shaming” as a negative tool overall. Instead of having to dig for information and shame our politicians or celebrities, maybe everyone will simply be more honest. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Now, to the TED Talk that featured Monica Lewinsky. If you’re thinking of Bill Clinton, you’re thinking of the right girl.

Although we all know her story, or claim to know her story, the talk was really eye opening. She didn’t preach for forgiveness, and she didn’t preach for apologies. One thing she did stress was compassion. She urged the audience to think about what you click before you hit the mouse, and take a second before you post that harsh comment.

She advocated that we steer away from this shaming culture, and instead promote compassion and empathy for the people that we live our lives with, and I agree.

When I was sitting down to listen to a TED Talk from Monica Lewinsky, I’ll be honest to say I was a bit sceptical at first. But my scepticism only proves that shaming someone, although sometimes fun and good at getting dirty details out fast, doesn’t mean I know anything about that person.

Yes, I know that Lewinsky and Clinton may or may not have had a few late-night meetings in the Oval Office. But that doesn’t mean I know her as a person, and it doesn’t mean that I know what was going through her head at the age of 22 when her story was made public.

That was the message that I took away. Yes, that person made a mistake and now the world knows about it. But that person is still a person.

I totally understand that every case of public shaming or information leaking is different, and I’m not trying to generalize the topic. That being said, I think Lewinsky’s key points could be true for about 99 per cent of these cases we see.

As users of the Internet, we have free speech and access to all kinds of wonderful things that we wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. With the privilege of having social media and the Internet also comes the responsibility to use these tools respectfully.

It sounds redundant and lame, saying that everyone should respect each other’s privacy and secrets, but it’s true!

I’ve explored both sides of shaming, the “good” and the bad aspects, to hopefully show you that although it’s nice to know exactly who these public figures are, it isn’t nice to ruin people’s lives over one silly mistake that we’ve probably made ourselves at one point.

As we go forward, I think by being more honest and compassionate with one another will eliminate this culture of shaming and public humiliation.

There will always be jokes made about people and comments to be posted, and if all you want to do with that comment is get a few laughs then that’s okay. I definitely don’t want people to stop making memes when a celebrity does something silly, and I don’t want everyone’s dirty secrets in the dark if they affect my life.

Don’t stop the comedy, and don’t stop commenting, but think before you type and try to understand that behind the wrong decision or mistake was a person.It’s hard to put our anger or jealousy aside when a celebrity does something scandalous, but before you comment and think it won’t affect the reader, think again.

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