The curse of social shaming

Recently, my Social Media newsfeed has been an angry place. 

People have been shouting at strangers,  name-calling, mocking and there’s been tales of petty politics, poor customer service and rants against people, systems and things.

Name and shame seems to be the current trend and it reminded me of two viral stories from a few years ago. 

You may have read about them; a terribly decorated cake made for a child, in tribute to Elsa from Frozen and the tragic suicide of airport security officer Ariel Runis in Israel.

The stories are linked because they’re examples of the phenomena ‘social shaming’. 

Social shaming is what happens when the Internet turns (like a huge ship, being redirected by a tiny rudder) against a single person. 

Someone might say or do something foolish or in the case of Ariel Runis, someone else files a complaint in a public place and without warning, this shared rage and mockery bubbles up in human hearts and is collectively vented on one pour soul.

Accusations are made, lies are spread and before his death, 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 took his own life.

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

When I read the story of the Elsa cake, my first reaction was to think, ‘how ridiculous…how stupid…how could she 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’s very easy, when tapping keys behind the anonymity of a computer screen, to become a keyboard warrior and use social media as a way of venting frustration.

There’s no doubt that Social Media can be used as a fantastic tool for good.  It can be a great place to put pressure on corrupt systems and some social campaigns have literally changed the world. 

But it also comes with responsibility.   Am I sharing, liking or laughing at something, which is another ‘arrow’ at someone’s heart? 

Am I substituting an online rant, for a real-life conversation with a person who’s upset me? 

Am I hiding behind a computer screen, laughing at others because deep down, an inner playground bully enjoys it?

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.