Monday, June 30, 2008

The Problem with Online Shaming

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post on online shaming, where photographs of people behaving uncivilly in public were posted online. I then wrote that online shaming was a flawed tool, and could be symptomatic of an immature society.

After thinking about the issue intermittently for about a year and a half, I believe I am able to elaborate further on my ideas.

My basic assumption was that the photographers of such pictures, aside from taking photographs of uncivil acts and the corresponding culprits, had not done anything to stop the uncivil acts. If this assumption were true, I would believe that the photographers are in no moral position to shame the culprits behind the uncivil acts.

If one indeed feels that a certain behavior is unjustifiable, it is one's duty to stop the behavior. Conversely, if one does not stop a certain behavior, one is either being inconsistent (by not acting in line with his beliefs), or one does indeed believe that an act is justifiable. In the latter case, there is clearly no moral position to post the photographs, since nothing wrong was committed. In the former case, one would be a form of hypocrite if he were to post the photographs, for by not acting to stop the uncivil behavior, he could be said to be knowingly condoning the same uncivil behavior. Hence, in both cases, one cannot post the photographs without also posting his own photograph for abetting the uncivil act.

To a lesser degree, I also feel that even if the photographer was to participate in stopping the uncivil offender, online shaming is still undesirable. As I mentioned previously, such an act is more retributive than restitutive. It also feels a bit sensationalist, although technically this is not a logical argument but an emotive one.

One final consideration I would like to raise is of 'Asian Mind-your-own-business-ism', or non-confrontationalism. While I can certainly appreciate not having anyone poking their nose into my business, it should be noted that selfish and uncivil people should not benefit from this. Perhaps we should all grow some balls and stop the bad behavior on-site, rather than online.

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