We will now explore instances of onlineshaming and their relevance today. The first and most pertinent is the case ofJustine Sacco who came into the spotlight in 2013 after making a misjudgedtweet following her travels to the UK and Africa.
Sacco commented before sheboarded a flight to South Africa that she hoped she didn’t “Going to Africa.Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding I’m white!” a joke that played on race andher white privilege. She began trending and being shamed for these derisory andinsensitive comments with people calling into questioning how she could beallowed to become a PR consultant and publicly attacking her online.
She wasplaced under intense public scrutiny with many classing her as a racist basedon this one series of tweets, with this kind of essentialization beingcommonplace in online shaming. Whether or not she was a racist or privilegedremains to be seen, however, her attempt at humour was enough for fellowinternet users to class her as a racist and attempt to regulate her taboobehaviour of exhibiting overt racist ideas albeit in joke form. Our otherexample came to the fore in the summer of 2013 with a particularly big scandalafter the Eminem concert at Slane Castle. This second example is taken from theIrish context when images surfaced online of “Slane Girl”, who was photographedperforming sex acts on a man at the summer concert and subsequently shamedonline. The story was also published by all major news outlets in Ireland inthe weeks following the image’s circulation, thus amplifying the publicattention and reaction to her breaking of a social norm. The social norm thatshe broke could be seen as breaking the barriers between the private and thepublic by performing sexual acts in a public place also occupied by 80,000people. The girl was viciously attacked online and “slut-shamed”.
Her identitywas revealed online, and she was publicly embarrassed with many peoplecommenting on her behaviour, sharing the picture, and circulating Slanegirl”memes”. In examiningthese two varied online cultures, we observe that there are clear distinctionsbetween them that result in varied practices and outcomes. At the core of theirdynamics are vast differences in aim, explanation, identity, and process. Theaim of trolling places its emphasis on offensiveness and disrupting others,whereas shaming is centred on imposing and maintaining social norms. Thereasoning behind these goals is also greatly separated; shaming seeks to makevictims aware and accountable for their actions as opposed to trolling thatseeks to cause mischief, offense and emotionally disrupt the equilibrium of thevictim for the troll’s own enjoyment.
Online shamers, unlike their trollcounterparts, do not feel a strong sense of identity with the practice thatthey carry out; they do not view themselves as “online shamers”, but rather asone of the public themselves. In contrast to this, trolls despite sometimes notlabelling themselves as such understand that they are trolling people and assuch align themselves with fellow trolls in anti-social networks to wreak havoconline. The other major difference between the two cultures is the organisationof their practices. Online shaming is a more structured dynamic following aprocess across all forms of the practice compared to trolling that is dependenton the practitioner and is a more adaptive free from practice that is harder todefine and specify.There does,however, appear to be some overlap between these two online cultures where thepractices merge.
An identity can become blurred between that of a troll and anonline shamer. Both the online shamer and the troll demonstrate behaviours thathighlight the narrowing of boundaries between the public and the private life.They appear to act with a variety of intentions (from aiming to offend or to punishtaboo behaviour), however, they both strive to enact their social behaviourswithin the public sphere in front of a global internet audience as opposed toprivately. In their use of the internet as a public forum, we see how and wheretrolls and shamers share similarities and overlap. The blurring of lines publicand private can be seen by both trolls and shamers when they expose privateinformation or issues to public scrutiny. In doing this, we observed mixedbehaviours with trolls shaming people to offend but also punish the breaking ofsocial norms. For example, when we consider the social norm of the ideal womanbeing slim we see a convergence of trolling and shaming against those who donot conform through insults and troll-like behaviour.
Plus size model AshleyGraham experiences comments like this on her Instagram pictures with commentssuch as; “You’ll never be skinny stop trying”, “Beach Whale”, “Fat” and so on.We see these insults can be viewed as trolling because of the offense theycause, but to some extent, they coincide with maintaining social norms, in thiscase, the idea that thin is ideal. Another example of this is renowned troll Jason Fortuny and hiscraigslist experiment. He posted a personals adverts as a woman looking for”a str8 brutal dom muscular male” and subsequently publicly publishedthe respondents’ information on his blog. In doing so he exhibited thecharacteristics of both an online shamer and a troll, upsetting the exposed andalso revealing their sexual behaviours unaligned with societal norms.
In summary, wehave seen the emergence of two ostensibly oppositional dynamics within theonline realm, these being that of shaming and trolling. Both appear to be anindividual’s way of interacting with social norms and taboos either reinforcingor breaking them. Trolling is the more malevolent of the two seeking to cause arecipient emotional distress. While shaming aims to merely make others aware oftheir illicit behaviours and regulate it in accordance with online andreal-world community norms. They are inherently different with disparities intheir aims, reasoning, identities, and processes.
However, these phenomena caninteract when trolls try to regulate certain norms and in this way, they takeon an intersectional identity as they aim to shame taboo behaviours with thebonus of causing a person emotional distress, as is the case with fat shamingtrolls. In any case, we see that these practices are deeply embedded in ouronline cultures and given the flexibility of trolls themselves in terms ofadapting to ever-changing environments it is a possibility that trolls willcontinue to exist if there are environments in which to exhibit free speech.For online shamers, the case is somewhat similar. Public shaming andhumiliation are practices that has existed for centuries, the presence of theinternet only served to perpetuate and reinforce the dynamic but in a morewidespread forum. The online world is a battlefield where people publicly shamethe breaking of a taboo in a hope to regulate these behaviours, often thevictims end up facing intense online scrutiny as well as real-worldconsequences such as Justine Sacco and Slane girl.