To Shame or Not to Shame?


You take two steps forward, and then you take one back. Or, your life imitates snakes and ladders; you take one giant leap upwards, but then you slither back down farther than where you started. At times, I feel this way about technology and social media.

I love the benefits, the ways I can use it in the classroom to enhance student engagement, as well as the plethora of uses in my personal life (including the ease of finding a phone number for any business or restaurant, as well as directions to anywhere I want to go with the help of Google Maps). However, the dangers continue to hold back my full-blown enthusiasm. I’ve spoken to the dangers for students and teens with uses of anonymous social media outlets such as Yik Yak, Ask FM, and 4chan, as well as the continued cyberbullying that exists online.


Photo credit: Jan Balaz via Compfight


They aren’t the only victims. According to a study in Australia, “[s]eventy per cent of women said online harassment was a serious problem in 2016 and 60% said that it was getting worse” (Hunt, 2016). Many of these victims are women under the age of 30, of which about a quarter had been victims of threats of physical violence. One in seven women of all ages have been victimized in a similar manner. One in seven.

“Harassment is a form of discrimination. It involves any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time. Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.”  Canadian Human Rights Commission

I would furthermore state that this number be unrepresentative of the true plight of women in the online world. I wonder how high the victim vs non-victim ratio would be for women who find themselves online regularly. Among all the women who express their ideas online, how many of them are harassed and threatened? I, just as some of my peers, have never been threatened or harassed online. But my online presence is minimal, to say the least. If I were to consistently make my identity known online, speak out about controversial topics, express my viewpoints, or even just share social justice articles just as my professor had, perhaps I too would be a victim of online trolls and bullies, expressing misogynistic and sexist views from the safety of their computers or devices.

This safety of anonymity is one of the greatest causes of the online harassment that is becoming so rampant that it is almost, scarily, a “norm”. Jannae noted similar problems with online being a “haven” for internet bullies and trolls because they can say these horrific slurs, violent threats, and use graphic language without ever having to attach their personal information or name as proponents of such bigotry. Matt Rozsa, equally, declared that “[o]nline anonymity is only an asset when it’s used to comfort and protect individuals who wish to express opinions in a psychologically “safe” environment” (2014). Anonymity should not be used for threats or insults of any kind. Why are we, as a society, allowing such terrorizing behaviours to persist under an umbrella of anonymity, when, in these cases, all it is doing is protecting the perpetrators and giving them a voice for their twisted ideas and notions?

Photo credit: Prakash

Although some social media outlets are putting in efforts to minimize such terrors, they still exist. I am not trying to say that men are not victims of such behaviours either. However, women are targets; in fact, 73% of cyberstalking victims are women. A primary example of such attacks is the Gamergate controversy, in which women like Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu were all attacked mercilessly online. How can one forget gang rape threats, or how could one make her life whole again after being doxxed? You can’t; and although you may expect changes to transpire after such behaviours are brought to light, it doesn’t always happen as quickly as you would like. Even making jokes on Twitter referencing the lack of female rights can bring about the mean, violent, and misogynistic tendencies of our society.

How can we avoid these attacks? Some may say to stop posting things online; stop giving these perpetrators the ammo they need to say such things. Ignore the trolls.

As if.

That changes nothing. That focuses on the victim being pitted as the cause for this online harassment. That means that these behaviours will persist, because nothing is being said to stop them. John Oliver addresses similar problems in the video below, particularly related to naked pictures being leaked online.

We need to stop victimizing the victim. We need to speak out, ensure our voices are heard, and get the law and police on the offensive. Laws need to protect online victims, and they should be enforced as consistently and effectively as possible. More education for police on how this protection can be improved needs to become a priority in all law enforcement agencies (although, I know there are other issues here with encryption and things of the like, discussed in a previous blog). I just can’t accept the fact that these behaviours are continuing, and that we can’t protect those who are getting harassed online.

Heather had great suggestions for things to do personally to stop online trolls and bullies that she retrieved from a Steph Guthrie video addressing these very concerns. Shaming the perpetrators is not the answer; it puts us in the same realm of malicious online activities. Shaming the activity – online harassment – is where we should focus, although I don’t necessarily think it is “shaming”. Public voice of concerns and opinions regarding online harassment and the detrimental effects it has personally and socially is where we need to align our vision to reduce not only the behaviours that are transpiring online, but society’s subsequent acceptance of such behaviours.

Adults, too, need a digital citizenship education.

We know harassment is wrong, and when it is done in person, consequences are severe. Online, not as much. That needs to change.

What are your thoughts on actions we should take to reduce online harassment? To shame or not to shame?


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4 Responses to To Shame or Not to Shame?

  1. ashleypmurray says:

    I don’t think that shaming the shamers is the answer. Would we not just be going in circles? I don’t know what the answer is but I do think there needs to be some way that we can prevent this. I think that everyone needs to think about the comments they post and ask themselves if they would say that to a person face to face? Maybe they would, but some of the comments made are absolutely atrocious. If someone would say those things to someones face then we/they have bigger problems. I think there needs to be bigger consequences for threats made online and victims need to be protected. Unfortunately I don’t have any solutions to offer though.


  2. Though I haven’t watched super closely, it is also sad when our courts have a hard time dealing with these issues when the perpetrators are actually identified and in the same jurisdiction. The downside of the World Wide Web is that it is worldwide. This is also the upside, of course.


  3. Erin Benjamin says:

    I appreciate your point of adults needing digital citizenship education as well. My students are very young and I know I don’t see the full picture, but due to our digital citizenship lessons, they seem to get the importance and potential severity of what they post online. I am, however, constantly baffled at what I read on social media-adults attacking and harassing other adults. Will we possibly grow into a generation of online users that know better than this?


  4. Pingback: An Open Letter to the Women Who Tear Down One Another – Mrs. Braun's Classroom

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