Public shaming with technology

A question that has been bouncing around my head for a while, and maybe this is because of an article I’m working on now, is why do people use technology to shame, defame, slander or insult in ways that they would never do without technology?

This is not a new discussion. In the early Internet days part of the answer that was often used was the idea that people felt that they could be anonymous online and this made “bad behavior” permissible or possible.

The important thing about this anonymity was that it was a perceived sense of anonymity as opposed to real anonymity. This caused many to believe that if anonymity could be taken away technology users would behave themselves.

Surveillance would resolve bad behavior.

This thinking created the idea of enforcing real identities online.

Countries like China and South Korea and companies like Google and Facebook have for different reasons implemented real identities online.

Naturally policies and regulations such as these have been criticized.

But do we behave if we do not believe ourselves to be anonymous online?

Apparently not.

Look at the abuse that Marion Bartoli, the woman’s Wimbledon champion, faced.

With tweets like “Someone as ugly and unattractive as Bartoli doesn’t deserve to win” there is a direct connection between physical appearance and physical skill. Sadly, of course, this connection is more common when it is related to women.

What is interesting is that many of those who offered opinions like this (and worse) were not anonymous and yet they were still openly hostile, belligerent and maybe slanderous.

The Swedish clothes company H&M printed clothes with pictures of Tupac Shakur, a 21 year old Swedish woman, wrote to question on H&M’s Facebook page asking why they thought it was ok to use the picture of a man convicted of sexual abuse in their clothing.

As a result she received thousands of comments, she was threatened with, amongst other things, rape, stoning and drowning. The main discussion was whether or not H&M had behaved correctly by not being actively enough in removing comments.

But what is interesting is that the comments where all on Facebook, people seemed to be happily open with their misogynistic, threatening and illegal comments. There was no illusion of anonymity, the users were easily identifiable by everyone and yet this did not stop them.

Bad behavior online is not prevented by openly identifying everyone.

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