Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several news reports highlighting social media shaming. From body shaming of Pink and other celebrities, and by Michael Bublé of a random woman in Miami, to drought shaming by a man in California, shaming is popping up like crazy. It seems shaming others on social media is the new national pastime. Is social media shaming the new black?
What motivates public shaming of others on social media? I cannot say for sure, as I think it’s probably different for everyone, and most people do not just freely offer up their reasons for shaming others (whether publicly or otherwise). The man in California, however, freely admitted he has made it his goal to publicly shame others in hopes that it will change their behavior. Now, I am no expert, but I can tell you this based on my own experience of being shamed: shaming does not lead to positive change. If anything, being shamed causes that individual to withdraw, act out, rebel, fight, and try to shame back. Basically, shames begets shame.
So what about those who do not intend to shame? I think a lot of people do not even think about what they are doing, mindlessly commenting on others’ posts or images, and even passing them along to be funny.
But as I mentioned before, others are blatantly cruel – the haters out there on the internet are plentiful, and it is apparent that the goal, for whatever reason, is to draw negative attention to another human being.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally shaming, both, quite simply, bring others down. Let’s think for a minute about Brené Brown’s definition of shame from her book, I Thought It Was Just Me: shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. So basically, when we are shaming others, we are telling them that they are unworthy of love and belonging. Wow.
My husband tells me that I am a pessimist, and for the most part , he is correct – although I like to say that I am just preparing myself for the worst so when the worst happens I will not be disappointed! Nice, huh? But even being the pessimist that I am, I have a really hard time believing that people who engage in shaming behavior are consciously sending the message that “you are not worthy of love and belonging!” Even the self-professed shamer in California probably is not trying to tell people that they are essentially worthless. He obviously disagrees with the water usage habits of the individuals he is shaming, and has chosen to attack the individual instead of the behavior.
So what is to be done about social media shaming? Some might say that by putting oneself out there, that individual just needs to assume the risk of being shamed. It does seem one needs pretty thick skin to be active on social media these days. But is that true? Should we just accept this as the new norm? The way it is? I don’t think so. I don’t have the answers for how to stop it, but I will say that we could all benefit from thinking carefully before re-posting, re-tweeting, and engaging in behavior that could appear to be shaming. That may sound too simple, but honestly, until I was aware of the negative power of shame, I didn’t really think about my own behaviors and words. Because I have pledged to be vulnerable in this space, and because I know putting the truth out there is powerful, in future posts I will explore some of my own shaming behavior, so stay tuned! But until then, let me just say that the desire to shame others in response to being shamed is a pretty natural instinct. We want to fight back. We want to defend ourselves. Who wants to be called out? But again, shaming in return only makes the problem worse. This I know from a great deal of experience.
So again, what do we do? We cannot control how others react and feel, and I am not advocating trying to do so or even taking responsibility for the feelings and reactions of others. What we can do, however, is think about how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of public shaming. Think about the power we all have to either (a) join in on the shaming via nearly-anonymous social media platforms and promote societal harm, or (b) take a stand against the epidemic of shame by either NOT acting – not posting, tweeting, re-tweeting, etc.,- or voicing our displeasure – in a NON-SHAMING WAY – with the harmful behavior that is taking place via social media every. single. day.
So who’s with me? Let’s go against what appears to be the grain of social media shaming as a sport, and #fightshame.