The ‘internet mob’ can be a dangerous and hateful phenomenon, with social media allowing localized disputes to quickly take on a global scale. In the name of righteous vengeance, the person who committed a wrong can suddenly find themselves bombarded with death threats, their place of employment bullied into firing them and their reputation in tatters, a new form of public shaming that can often be more hateful than the original offense. (Facebook cover image: Gail Frederick)
This story from 2016 was a perfect example of this. After a women left a heartless and misguided rant on an Indianapolis restaurant’s Facebook page, the internet responded with fury. Yes, her post was hateful and selfish, and the restaurant manager was well within his rights to admonish her in the way he did. But people soon found her profile and business page online and began sending death threats and abuse. Some even found strangers with the same name and harassed them as well. The woman was soon fired from her job and has since disappeared from social media.
Now the post is going viral again, starting a new round of outrage and indignation about an isolated incident in a restaurant 3 years ago. What is it about these stories that keep us coming back for more? Do we just like the idea of ‘doing our bit’ in the fight against bad behavior and injustice? In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr. Guy Aitchison of University College Dublin believes this might be the case. “It’s a relatively low-cost way to feel like you are doing something noble,” he said. “But there are also darker motivations at work: the psychic pleasure in seeing someone else brought low and humiliated.”
While online shaming does set social standards, sending a powerful message about the need for compassion and kindness through stories like this and the likes of BBQ Becky, for example, perhaps it’s time we began to think about the real-world consequences of ‘destroying’ people for their mistakes, and ask ourselves if there’s a better way to go about it.