A terrible cake, a tragic suicide and the curse of ‘social shaming’.

Two stories caught my eye this week.  One about a terribly decorated cake made for a child, in tribute to Elsa from Frozen and the tragic suicide of Ariel Runis in Israel on Saturday.

The stories are linked because they’re examples of the phenomena  ‘social shaming’.  Social shaming is pretty much what happens when the Internet turns (almost like a huge ship, being redirected by a tiny rudder) against a single person.  Someone might say or do something a bit daft online or in the case of Ariel Runis, someone else files a complaint in a social place….and without warning, this shared rage or mockery bubbles up in human hearts and is collectively vented on one pour soul.

Accusations are made, lies are spread and before his death on Saturday, Ariel Runis wrote that each time the story was shared, ‘it was like an arrow in my flesh’.  He didn’t feel able to recover from what was being levelled at him online, and so he decided to take his own life.

In the case of the Elsa cake, thankfully the story ended well and the woman was exonerated, by the real story being told.  She’s now almost a social hero, with thousands of online ‘warriors’ defending her. But the story could have ended very differently.

When I first saw the story of the Elsa cake, my first reaction was to think, ‘how ridiculous…how stupid…how could that woman even think that was ok?’   Adding a sarcastic comment and hitting ‘share’ was the easiest thing in the world – it might have even given some other people a laugh too.

And yet now reading Ariel’s final words in his suicide letter to a friend that, ‘each of the 6000 shares was like an arrow to my flesh’, I’m mortified that although I didn’t, it was way too easy to join the howling online mob.

My Bible reading this morning (totally coincidentally) was this;

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticise their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole travelling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part’. (‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭1-5‬ MSG)

It reminds me of an old Sunday School song too;

O be careful little eyes what you see. O be careful little eyes what you see. There’s a Father up above, and He’s looking down in love. So, be careful little eyes what you see.

The little song continues with the same warning about what we speak, what we hear, where we go.

James warns us that there is life and death in the power of the tongue. These stories are a painful nudge, that there is also life and death in the power of what we share.