Online shaming – the new digital ‘stoning’?

Stoning  as defined by wikipedia: is a form of capital punishment whereby a group throws stones at a person until he or she dies. No individual among the group can be identified as the one who kills the subject. This is in contrast to the case of a judicial executioner. Slower than other forms of execution, stoning is considered a form of execution by torture

“Death of the philosopher Hypatia, in Alexandria” from Vies des savants illustres, depuis l’antiquité jusqu’au dix-neuvième siècle, 1866, by Louis Figuier.

When I first watched the Monica Lewinsky TedTalk – I had no idea what to expect! I mean – I don’t know anything about the women, well, except that one thing… and wouldn’t you know it – most of what I did “know” about her, was actually false.

I remember her public shaming, I don’t remember being especially ‘involved’ with it, I didn’t follow the story especially close, but I do recall hearing about it in the media.  Much to my chagrin, I had multiple adjectives associated with Monica Lewinsky, a woman I have never met or taken the time to get to know, and they were all, terribly negative, destructive, hurtful, and FALSE.  Yet, as a ‘passive’ consumer of these media stories – in my automaticity (Potter), had decided who she was, even though it was based on the media portrayal of one mistake.

Where do public and private start and end? As Danah Boyd discusses, the lines seems to be blurred in a myriad of complex ways.  Does that mean that those who lead ‘public’ lives (such as those who choose to participate in politics), be given a ‘private’ distinction in their lives?

In my online travels this week, I also came across an interesting talk from Jon Ronson discussing online shaming and when does it become out of control?

He raises some really interesting points, do people consider the contexts of posts/videos etc. before we start a shaming cycle? Or are people using online spaces without some serious critical considerations?

It was with these thoughts percolating in my mind this week, that I came across a few interesting ‘shared posts’ that I may not have given a second thought earlier in the week…


The first post I came across (above), was shared to my feed by multiple friends, via another persons very public profile, accusing someone of stealing a bag full of text books.  I’ve seen an increasing number of these in my community recently, with people leaving restaurant’s without paying and having their faces plastered all over the media.  Or perhaps the car vandal who was caught on a dash cam in our city recently.  I’m not saying that the ‘perpetrators’ are excused for their behaviour, however, I can’t help but wonder does the punishment fit the crime?

The second post I came across really has required a completely different lens, and made me question these ‘vigilante’ justice videos even further.


I have decided to share this Facebook post that was shared to my feed several times, as a space to start discussion, I have, however, chosen to not show the person’s face, or the details of the story as I have decided this may in fact be an example of shaming online.  This is being presented as a person who performed a ‘hit and run’ on the poster, and personal details (beyond his face) have been shared via social media.

What is really concerning to me, (in addition to now considering if a person ‘deserves’ to be publicly shamed for a mistake they have made), is that when reading the comments, it seems this story is controversial as a second party has been posting an alternate story, disputing the incident.  So, now we have cases of vigilantism online, defaming and shaming different parties and we have NO WAY of verifying if this account is accurate.  Yet, these stories were shared via my social media accounts several times by people I know (as well as many I don’t!)

What are your thoughts? Is this social vigilante-ism the direction we should be going? Or has our virtual community found a way to shame and punish people where “No individual among the group can be identified as the one who kills the subject. Slower than other forms of execution, stoning is considered a form of execution by torture”  There seems to be a stark resemblance to the public way we have begun ‘holding people accountable’. It’s actually really sad to see that with a few tweaks, we could have a definition for ‘digital stoning’:

No individual among the group can be identified as the one who destroys the subject.  Slower than other forms of persecution, ‘digital stoning’ is considered a form of persecution by torment.

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