THE BLOG
06/17/2013 04:10 pm ET | Updated Aug 17, 2013

Are Public Shaming and Cyberbullying the Same?

Public shaming is in the news (again). Readers' comments on articles side with public shaming being a good thing.

In March, a woman publicly shamed two men on Twitter. Adria Richards, the "shamer," listened to two men talking at a technical conference and became upset at their sexist and degrading dialogue. She took a photo of the men, uploaded it to Twitter, and added a note that revealed their conversation.

The tweet spread and was discovered by the supervisor of one of the men. The shamed man was promptly fired. Couldn't Adria have told the men in person how she felt? Or did anonymity play a role in her ability to "correct" their behavior?

Now, let's suppose someone posts a picture of you with a nasty comment in an effort to ridicule, correct, or embarrass you... would you call that public shaming or cyberbullying? You could potentially call it either one. In either case, the goal is to humiliate, lower or hurt dignity and pride, and bring dishonor.

The difference is that public shaming seems to be acceptable in most cases, while cyberbullying is not.

How often does public shaming masquerade as cyberbullying? This following list describes typical cyberbullying behavior; however, if you read the list with public shaming in mind, you might think it describes that:

  • Post rumors, lies, or "dirt" about the victim in a public forum
  • Share embarrassing pictures of the victim in a public forum or through email
  • Use texts, instant messages, emails, or photos to send mean or threatening messages
  • Upload a video to YouTube that embarrasses the victim
  • Create a fake Facebook account and pretend to be the victim, but act in a negative way
  • Pretend to be the victim in a chat room, and act in embarrassing ways
  • Share the victim's personal information in a public forum

Public shaming can slither through the grate of bad behavior because of its intention to get vengeance or to punish. It is common to think that a perpetrator deserves to be shamed and humiliated. But does shaming isolate a person's misbehavior and really correct it?

Some believe shaming will naturally drive away the impulse to act badly in public; however, this logic can be false. Prisons don't seem to naturally drive away the impulse to commit crime. In practice, shaming might lead to even darker misconduct when a perpetrator acts out toward the shamer, when the perpetrator is fueled by anger or guilt and then escalates the bad behavior.

And, then there's the potential harm that can come to the "shamed" person. For example, a women was caught on surveillance video throwing a cat into a garbage can. When she was shamed, her identity was revealed. She received death threats as a result.

Even just naming publicly available names to channel outrage (or worse) at someone who has violated your norms, is not only an ineffective way to deal, it risks causing more harm than the initial offense. Last year's trendy rise of media-sponsored shaming is self-righteousness masquerading as social justice. (Source: Cole Stryker)

The anonymity behind public shaming and cyberbullying is prevalent. It increases the likelihood that people will behave badly because there are no foreseen repercussions nor does the shamer have to interact with the shamed outside of social media.

Public shaming is not OK. If public shaming were called "cybershaming," would that correlation to "cyberbullying" change the perception?

Public shaming, like cyberbullying, should not be used and especially not on minors. It is a degrading way to attempt to correct behavior or to point out faults in others. The exception to the rule is when criminal behavior is involved and those images should be provided to law enforcement.

If you feel the need to publicly expose someone, imagine confronting them face-to-face. Would you say in person what you would say online? Would you be so angry or vengeful? Would it really fix the situation?

Note: I work for Net Nanny; the opinions expressed here are my own.