When accountability becomes shaming…

We are seeing a new trend with social media and negative digital citizenship behaviors. ‘Digital Shaming’ takes digital accountability to an extreme level and multiples one mistake into many mistakes of ethical behaviors. The old adage ‘two wrongs do not make a right’ fits well here.

Here’s how it might play out:

  1. Someone makes a bad ethical choice, posting a stupid comment and/or picture.
  2. It makes others mad, who then repost, retweet and share, adding their own take on how terrible it is. (some of these include insults and threats)
  3. The whole event, which is out of context completely now, goes viral.
  4. The original person is shamed, some consequences being extreme due to the digital ‘magnifying’ of the incident.

As you can imagine the results can be disastrous. People have lost their jobs, professional and personal reputations, as well as other consequences including fearing for their lives due to threats. You might say that some deserve what they get. (and I would agree that there should be consequences to poor judgement) I would also agree that when mistakes are made those making them need to own up to their mistakes, take responsibility and move on. But when does the accountability become shaming and turn extreme and unethical in itself? Unfortunately when this plays out in the vast online world, it can become unethical fast.

For specific examples and a great overview of the issue read the following:

How one stupid tweet blew up Justine Sacco’s Life

From Public Shaming to Public Compassion

What lessons can we take away from this? (and what can we try to help students understand?)

First and foremost: THINK before you post (always put your best digital foot forward)
But if you make a mistake: delete it, own it (take responsibility) , make amends as needed, and grow from it.

If you see another’s mistake, don’t jump into the fray re-tweeting/re-posting and generally trash mouthing the person. If it is a friend have a frank conversation with them about their ethical digression and help them take responsibility and grow.

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