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Public Shaming: Social Power and Its Drawbacks

Public shaming became a prevalent trend during the last five years. In particular, due to the spread of shaming, the English language was replenished with new expressions such as fat-shaming, body-shaming, or gender-shaming. But at the top of recent months remain lockdown-shaming, face-mask shaming, and even pajama-shaming. This paper aims to discuss the concept of shaming, its social power, and potential drawbacks such as state control or psychological trauma.

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After the introduction of a lockdown aimed at decreasing the number of cases of COVID-19 infection, many people were forced to live under the new rules of social distancing. Police patrols had to repeatedly remind violators through megaphones that in case of breaching the laws, they would be fined. But in some countries, the police began to resort to lockdown shaming, using drones. Many residents of the UK were offended by the records from police drones, which hit the news, showing how a dozen people spend their days off in a deserted national park (“Police Drone Video”). Citizens caught in a police video were observing social distancing and behaving decently.

The police attempted to draw attention to the incident to keep the order but went too far. People on the video did not pose a threat of spreading the virus since they were spending time in a secluded place. Choosing to exercise in a local park, which is allowed by law, could have been a much worse decision. Nonetheless, this video got on YouTube, as well as in TheGuardian and itvNews news (“UK Police Face Allegations”). Nobody knows whether the footage had psychological consequences for its heroes, whose faces cannot be seen. Besides, people did not perceive the drone as a threat, continuing to enjoy their weekend in the countryside.

According to Jon Ronson, shaming is a powerful tool for social control, which can be used to protect the virtue of people who previously did not have a voice. However, the British police actions prove that shaming is a double-edged blade that can become an instrument of state control. In his book, Ronson describes an incident in which YouTube and public shaming helped him regain his identity, taken away by the pseudo-scientists who created a spam bot on Twitter under the writer’s name (8). He received the support of hundreds and thousands of strangers after he posted a video of interviews with these people who created a page that produced tweets of the joys of fusion cuisine.

The difference between the Ronson’s case and the drone case is in what intentions the people who made the videos and uploaded them to the network pursued. Ronson intended to protect his identity and publicize the actions of cyber terrorists. The intentions of the British police patrols, on the opposite, were ill-conceived. The police should be more careful when deciding to publish a video since shaming can have severe consequences for the psyche of people.

Fortunately, in the discussed video, it is impossible to see the faces of “violators.” Still, in similar cases of face-mask shaming, some of the heroes subsequently received threats from Internet users and were subjected to online bullying. It is sad that shaming is prevalent and is often used not to restore justice but to find an object for whipping. If the situation continues to develop in this way, states will have to introduce strict regulatory measures for publications in social media. It is also possible that a new phenomenon will appear – ‘shaming-shaming’ when people will be persecuted for shaming other people.

Thus, the concept of public shaming was discussed, as well as its social power and potential drawbacks. To summarize, since it is a public opinion, shaming can have both positive and negative connotations and serve both helpful and destructive purposes. Shaming is usually disseminated through social media, which gives it the characteristics of socially relevant information. Therefore, an analogy between shaming and the yellow press can be made.

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Works Cited

Ronson, Jon. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Riverhead Books, 2016.

“Police Drone Video Shames People Using National Park During UK Lockdown.” YouTube, uploaded by Guardian News, 2020.

“UK Police Face Allegations of Being ‘Over-Zealous’ at Coronavirus Social Distancing.” YouTube, uploaded by ITV News, 2020.

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