A few of the circles of the interwebs that I frequent have been making a big deal about online mobs and public shaming. I have no doubt that Twitter mobs are a horrendous thing, but shifting the blame to primordial instincts is missing the point. Angry online mobs exist because the proper channels to redress wrongs are broken.
The first article to enter the discussion is a libertarian complaining she wasn’t protected by government regulation. Womp. Womp.
Looking at her case—an ex-boyfriend went off on a personal tirade on CSPAN about her:
- Had CSPAN exercised what should have been obvious editorial oversight, the segment never should have been aired. That this wasn’t live is even more baffling.
- The right to be forgotten would have made the video disappear from searches, largely mitigating the effects of its original publication.
- Stronger libel laws in the US—especially holding Facebook and Google accountable for content they host and profit off of, would get rid of the majority of cruft that’s nothing more than gossip.
So we’re left with a libertarian whining about being the victim of the US’s laissez-fair capitalism. Still, there’s more to the story. The person in question is a semi-public figure, who works in the media / think tank / busybody / do-nothing class.
She actually ought to be held accountable for her views. In this instance, she believes people in one of the richest societies in human history ought to die from treatable diseases because of their class background. This is an important opinion to consider if someone’s looking to hire you as a journalist or a think tank seat warmer.
When you start sorting through the anti-online shaming stuff, let’s call it the ‘Be Best’ movement, a good chunk of it is people with odious views that are annoyed at being held accountable for having odious views. In the case of public figures—they’re in my thoughts and prayers.
The failure of formal justice mechanisms
Angry mobs form when enough people feel that justice isn’t being served through formal channels. Had HR departments properly handled sexual harassment complaints, there would be no #MeToo movement.
That’s not to say that every mob is right on some level. Quite the contrary, many shaming movements are agitating for non-sensical ideas. Nonetheless, online outrage porn is the weapon of last resort for the weak. Attacking the weapon is ignoring the entire power imbalance that causes otherwise rational people to resort to mob e-violence.
The Kavanaugh saga shows where both sides missed the real point. Theatrics and outrage were the last resort for the majority of Americans, who didn’t vote for man who appointed Kavanaugh nor for the senators that voted to confirm him—who also lost the popular vote by a large margin. In the era of minority rule, outrage is the easy solution.
In no way do I use this to excuse the personal damage done by online shaming, especially guilty until proven innocent non-public figures. Nonetheless, I’m not willing to take ‘Be Best’ types at face value. It’s disingenuous to whine about online shaming and privacy while blocking action on the issues that have led to its proliferation.
The Lulz won’t set you free
Motivation is the difference between a social movement and outrage porn. I don’t care whether some washed up celebrity used the n-word in a private conversation. Making an issue out of this is not likely to advance equality.
The dark rabbit holes of the internet have a thing for lurid, career-ending gory. There’s nothing redeeming there, even if the cause is ‘right’.
This shouldn’t be a shield for public figures to hide behind. If you are a politician, you don’t get to absolve yourself of responsibility for reprehensible actions by crying internet mob. George Bush should never get a second’s respite from the millions of deaths he caused. Paul Ryan deserves nothing but public scorn for stealing from the poor and giving to rich.
That’s why I’m hesitant to jump all in on the no-shaming bandwagon. Let’s be careful of stripping away the only meaningful protest that many people have left.
Of tribes and culture wars
A much better and more scientific read is Memetic Tribes and Culture War 2.0. It’s worth taking the time to read through the whole thing.
I don’t have much to add to any of this, although I agree with the general idea of avoiding outrage journalism and social media.
The left is still disorganized
Going into 2020, the Left is little better off than a rag-tag band of rebels that fit inside the Millennium Falcon. For it’s own sake, the Left has got to get the online outrage machine under control.
For instance, Louis C.K. is apparently back and the outrage is already there. The whole point of comedy is that it has to sometimes miss the mark, push the envelope too far and go somewhere uncomfortable. Of all the issues facing society, off color jokes shouldn’t be making my news feed.
If we get through the next wave of authoritarianism without boiling the oceans and nuclear war, I’m not sure the SJWs will have left us with much a culture to enjoy anyway.