Is Public Shaming an effective form of punishment?

by Dr. Kirin Fiona Hilliar on April 10, 2018
Lifeworks in Media

In recent years, as technology has become more advanced and accessible, there has been a growing trend of people publicly shaming others for behavior they consider to be inappropriate. Videos, screenshots of texts, photos of Facebook posts, all this and more can be fodder for viral shaming content. Both adults and children can be the person posting (the ‘broadcaster’) and the person who is the subject of the material (the ‘target’). The broadcaster may be the victim of the target’s inappropriate behavior (e.g. they filmed the target while the target was harassing them), or they may be a witness to it.

On the one hand, technology and the internet have provided new platforms for those who feel victimized to have a voice; the success of movements such as #metoo and #timesup demonstrate this. On the other hand, before you post any “public shaming” material, you should ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. What is my goal?

Ask yourself honestly: what do I want to get out of this? Am I looking to get revenge? To get this person fired? To rally support around my cause? To warn others of this person’s behavior? To regain a sense of control in a situation where we feel powerless? To shine light on a larger issue? Once you understand your goal, you can determine whether public shaming will actually help you achieve this goal, or if there are more helpful alternatives.

2. Will this be effective in stopping the behavior I don’t like?!

The short answer is probably not. Research suggests that public shaming, unsurprisingly, generates a sense of shame: a negative view of oneself as a person (“I am a bad person”). Unless this is quickly resolved, shame has been associated with anger, hostility, depression, and substance abuse; shame can actually lead the person to behave even worse. Instead, what we want is for the person to feel guiltyabout what they did: “I did a bad thing, but I am still a good person”. Guilt is associated with empathy, and can motivate a person to want to change their behavior and rectify the situation.

3. Can I control the outcome?

The short answer is no. Once something is posted publicly, especially online, you have no control over who accesses it and how that information is treated. There have been devastating cases of people losing their job (both the broadcaster and the target) or committing suicide, because of material that was posted online. If you are not willing to accept the possible consequences, then you should not be posting publicly.

4. How would I react if this happened to me?

We need to be careful that our sense of righteousness and justice does not turn us into a bully ourselves. Bullying is doing something with the intent to cause harm to another person(s).Think about a time where you did something that you now regret. How would you react if someone posted that online (or on other public domains) for all to see?

You are more likely to get a more positive and constructive response dealing with the matter privately. This may include showing the material to relevant people (e.g., school administrators, HR department) or authorities (e.g., the police), as well as speaking with the person directly.

Dr. Kirin discussed this topic as a guest on Dubai Eye’s The Agenda on 7th March 2018 – you can listen to the podcast here: Click here

If you would like to talk, feel free to reach out to us. An LifeWorks therapist would be able to help.

Dr.Bassem Badr
Dr.Bassem Badr
Consultant Psychiatrist,Holistic Approach - Arabic and English
Master of Science in Neuropsychiatry - Experience: 25 Years
Ms. Afsheen Sheikh
Ms. Afsheen Sheikh
Board Certified Behaviour Analyst - English
MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis - Queens University of Belfast,UK - Experience: 5 Years
Dr.Marwa Abd El Hamid
Dr.Marwa Abd El Hamid
Clinical Psychologist - Arabic and English
Ph.D. in Psychology Ain-Shams University - Experience: 10 Years
Iva Vukusic
Iva Vukusic
Clinical Psychologist - English, Croatian and German
Master of Psychology, Training of Trainers (ToT) Community
Jyotika Aggarwal
Jyotika Aggarwal
Clinical Psychologist - English
M.A.(Clinical Psychology), RE-CBT - Experience: 7 Years
Sailaja Menon
Sailaja Menon
Counseling Psychologist - English
CAGS (Multicultural Counseling), Johns Hopkins University, USA - Experience: 25 Years
Sneha John
Sneha John
Psychologist - English, French
Masters in Clinical Psychology from University of London, UK, Bachelor of Psychology with Counselling, UK, Diploma in Child Development, UK.

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