The internet can be a harsh, unforgiving place and no one knows that more than Monica Lewinsky. In a recent TED Talk she made the case for the internet to become a more compassionate place, after her own experience of being on the receiving end of internet justice. Good luck with that.
But in all seriousness, she makes a great point. Explaining why she feels it's necessary to stop the culture of online shaming that is so prevalent, she says, "I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously."
It's a strange practice, one that has been facilitated even more with the ease with which social media lets people interact and flame others—people who are too quick to press tweet or post rather than read back what they've written and take a second to consider the other person.
Sadly, it's a ubiquitous practice, barely a week goes by before someone is lampooned for some "outrageous" indiscretion that in no way warrants the reaction it gets—and it's a dismal state of affairs.
Journalist Jon Ronson recently published a book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, on the culture of shaming and traveled the globe speaking to the people whose lives it ruined. An excerpt from the book was published in the New York Times and it shows how public shaming destroyed one person's life.
One person I met was Lindsey Stone, a 32-year-old Massachusetts woman who posed for a photograph while mocking a sign at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns. Stone had stood next to the sign, which asks for “Silence and Respect,” pretending to scream and flip the bird. She and her co-worker Jamie, who posted the picture on Facebook, had a running joke about disobeying signs — smoking in front of No Smoking signs, for example — and documenting it. But shorn of this context, her picture appeared to be a joke not about a sign but about the war dead. Worse, Jamie didn’t realize that her mobile uploads were visible to the public.
Four weeks later, Stone and Jamie were out celebrating Jamie’s birthday when their phones started vibrating repeatedly. Someone had found the photo and brought it to the attention of hordes of online strangers. Soon there was a wildly popular “Fire Lindsey Stone” Facebook page. The next morning, there were news cameras outside her home; when she showed up to her job, at a program for developmentally disabled adults, she was told to hand over her keys. (“After they fire her, maybe she needs to sign up as a client,” read one of the thousands of Facebook messages denouncing her. “Woman needs help.”) She barely left home for the year that followed, racked by PTSD, depression and insomnia. “I didn’t want to be seen by anyone,” she told me last March at her home in Plymouth, Mass. “I didn’t want people looking at me.”
It makes for harrowing reading and you wonder WTF happened to empathy and understanding. What happens to someone where they can feel so vindicated by ruining a stranger's life without any understanding of who they are, or without any context of why they did the seemingly abominable act? SMH.
So you have to admire Lewinsky for standing up and demanding an end to this "culture of humiliation." Perhaps the tide's finally beginning to turn.