A little while ago, I finished reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. It was an interesting read. What really interested me was life after for the person that was publicly shamed.
I, for one, never thought about what happens to the shamed after the viral of their shaming has died down. We all moved on, so it was natural for me to assume that the shamed moved on and this was no longer part of their lives. But, boy was I wrong. It seems like shaking a public shaming — especially in the age where one can be googled — is next to impossible.
At the same time, it’s fascinating how we are so quick to shame someone publicly, as if that’s the answer to the problem. Recently, there was a story about a Muslim woman who was refused an unopened can of Diet Coke (#UnitedforTahera) because the flight attendant felt that it can be used a weapon and then went to hand a white male passenger an unopened beverage can (of course, this is all Tahera’s account and as of writing this, no one else has stepped forward to either confirm or deny Tahera’s claim). The thing that got me was in the comment sections (which I don’t know why I read them when we all should just avoid the comment section) and it was surprising just how many people demanded that the name and picture of the flight attendant be released so that people can shame her for her racist actions. But really though, would that solve anything?
Which brings me. Literally, as soon as I finished reading Ronson’s book and logged online, I came across this story.
A woman posted this on her Facebook:
And it went viral.
In fact, because it went viral, it reached the man who this woman was talking about. And of course, this being the Internet, the man received many death threats. The man was surprised and went to the police station to tell his side of the story.
He basically said that he was attempting a dad joke and taking a selfie to send to his kids — a picture with Darth Vader cardboard cutout.
He saw kids standing next to display and said, “I’ll only be a second, I’m taking a selfie to send to my kids.”
He then claimed that the woman stalked him and took a picture of him. And then he discovered that he had been publicly shamed for a dad joke he attempted with his very own kids.
Of course, his side of the story went viral and now the accusing woman says she feels horrible and never intended her original post to garner some much attention and go viral. The man, meanwhile, is contemplating filing a lawsuit for character defamation.
I don’t know how I feel about this story.
I mean the thing that gets me is that she completely blew this out of proportion. She obviously wasn’t there when the exchange between the man and her children took place. She must’ve seen the guy taking a picture near her children, and asked them, “Who was that man and what was he doing?”
“I don’t know, mum. Just some guy who’s taking a picture to send to kids.”
Did this woman overreact? Of course.
Did she have the right to feel threatened? Perhaps. I mean, you see a man by himself, next to your kids, taking pictures and given our culture of mistrust and fear, anything is possible. And that “anything” usually means we assume something horrific, like a pedophile trying to score points with his victims.
Could this have been avoided? Of course. Just talk to the man, “What are you doing?” But, if I was that man and some strange woman demanded what I was doing, I wouldn’t tell her. And who knows how upset she’d be? She might be in mother bear mode and may have demanded to see my phone. I wouldn’t give it to her, of course. Unless I was subpoenaed. (Yes, I stand with Tom Brady not giving up his phone to be investigated. Besides, people. Deflated balls weren’t the reason why the Colts lost by that much. And, no one made a big deal out of the Panthers and Falcons manipulating their balls. If you made through that sentence without giggling, you’re much more mature than I).
I have no point to this post, really. I’m just fascinated with this story and all stories of public shaming. And the damage it causes to the person being shamed. Both this man and woman have now been publicly shamed, and both shared about how devastating it has been for their families. The man was just making a dad joke by standing in front of Darth Vader to take a selfie (which was embarrassing in of itself, said the man). And the woman thought that her kids and other children were in danger by a creep taking pictures of himself and sending it to children. And yet this encounter has blown up in their faces, and they’re left with trying to keep out of the public eye and be protected from all the death threats they’ve received. (C’mon. What’s with the death threats? All. The. Time.)
I guess the moral of this story is that there’s more than meets the eye.
Or perhaps, don’t be so quick to publicly shame? Alerting the security would have been enough?
And perhaps, let’s stop making death threats?
I think the platform to publicly shame will only get larger. Especially with bits like this (which I found hilarious and tempted to do and upload):