When Social Media 'Shaming' Goes From Funny to 'Too Far'
Feeling bitter? Keep it private, not public
This week, adding another notch to the bedpost that is Kardashian-related news, Robert—brother to the famed trio of sisters—embarked on a Twitter tirade against his now ex-girlfriend, singer and rising star Rita Ora.
Choosing not to mince or sugarcoat his words so as to protect, you know, his entire family's reputation (not that it's that exemplary) or avoid the wrath of Jay-Z (Ora's manager, and with him, his entire influential network), Kardashian took to the social network to slam the singer for (it seems) cheating on him.
But instead of a posting the usual passive-aggressive message—Justin Bieber went with a cryptic anagram for "single" when news broke of his break-up—Kardashian chose to expose Ora's (alleged, varied, and unsafe) sexual history.
He wrote, among other things: "I'm disgusted a woman could give up her body to more than 20 dudes in less than a year's time while trying to start a career" and "So you let me get you pregnant and you let others hit raw[?]" (See more below)
Sure, he's since deleted the tweets, as well as denied that they were ever directed at Ora to begin with—not that his denial makes a difference since she's already taken an equally high-road approach by responding: "Rob's d**k was wack [so] I had to go get it somewhere else"—but it seems his remorse comes too little, too late. After all, post-rant, and likely much to the chagrin of the singer, the phrase and pun "Rita Whora" began trending on Twitter among amused users.
So, when does Internet "shaming" go from funny to 'too far'?
As of late, the trend has certainly become popular, but most often with innocent babies and dogs as the targets. Respective parents and owners post pictures of the cute culprit next to the scene of their accidental crime -- say, an expensive, but now broken gadget -- sometimes with a handwritten note added, admitting their mistake.
But when the offender is an adult, and when there's more at stake than a chewed-up shoe, should shaming be kept off public platforms?
"I would strongly advise that," said Holly Parker, lecturer on psychology at Harvard University. "What can be gained productively otherwise? This is fundamentally a form of revenge. The Internet is a great tool but, in the wrong hands, it can unfortunately allow people an opportunity to enact social revenge on a very large scale. And when we enact revenge, we stoop to the level, or below the level, of the person with whom we're upset. Besides, it doesn't really make people feel better."
In fact, it gives offenders a "reason for indignation" rather than for change, according to Slate's senior editor Emily Bazelon, an expert on cyber-bullying. "If you come under attack for something you thought you said privately, however wrong you were about that, wouldn't you feel anger more than remorse?," she asked in a recent article.
(Ora's response as evidence, Bazelon seems to be right.)
In 2010, a New York Times article named social media the "new court of public opinion," a place where people could say anything and rarely face consequences for it, and where private behavior that might have otherwise remained unknown or unnoticed can go public.
Since then, the online shaming trend has grown and varied, from lighter fare like Dogshaming.com to the more aggressive attacks that populate Hello There, Racists. The distinct difference shouldn't be ignored, says Parker.
"[Kardashian's shaming] is qualitatively different from posting pictures of pets and babies getting into trouble," Parker said, "because the intention [with pets and babies] generally has a comedic undertone and the poster is not trying to cause the object to feel bad or suffer social consequences."
Kinelam Bolgaire, a New York-based social media expert and publicist adds, "Animals and kids are expected not to know better and, therefore, the shaming is playful and innocent."
Still, as the Times noted, it's the obscurity that the Internet allows for that makes shaming easy. And more dangerous.
"Many social media sites allow one to become anonymous through the use of pseudonyms," said Bolgaire. "And that anonymity can allow for untold cruelty to be dished out without fear of retribution. Social media can be compared to the masks used by the group of boys in the famous book, 'Lord of the Flies.' Do you remember how quickly that group descends into barbarity?"
Though the benefits to using social media (correctly) certainly outweigh its disadvantages, when it comes to personal matters, Michael Fertik, an expert in online privacy and reputation management, says they're best kept between the parties themselves.
"The bottom line is the Internet is forever," said Fertik. "When you say something in person, in the heat of the moment, it can be forgiven, even forgotten, and it stays between the two of you. But Internet shaming is like a canyon full of echoes -- you say one thing and it continues to reverberate. It's hurtful and especially harmful because it can create ruinous doubt about a person and their character. There's often no way to fully remove it. Is that really how you want to treat someone you once cared about?"
See Kardashian's tweets below: