For the last week Popehat has hosted some discussions about public shaming based on obnoxious online behavior. You can find my post framing public shaming as an instance of more-speech social consequences here, Clark's concerns about the impact of public shaming on culture here, and a collection of past on-topic posts here.
Let's look at a specific example to continue the discussion.
Yesterday Nina Davuluri, who is of Indian descent, was crowned Miss America. The results were predictable to anyone familiar with the internet, not to mention anyone who remembers what happened when Rima Fakih won the Miss USA pageant: unrestrained derpitude, often by people who are too ignorant to tell different ethnic groups apart.
As is often the case, some sites collected and published tweets by people upset that a person of Indian descent won the pageant. Here is the forthrightly named Public Shaming Blog, and here is Buzzfeed. Many of the people featured have since deleted their Twitter accounts or made them private.
Is this good, bad, or indifferent? Positive, negative, or neutral?
Here are some arguments I'd expect, without (yet) endorsing any of them:
1. It's entertaining. Human frailty is the oldest and most consistent funny subject. People who are constantly incensed at brown people and can't tell Arabs from Muslims from Indians are foolish and foolishness is amusing.
2. It's whistling past the graveyard. Bigotry exists; ridiculing bigots is a mild act of defiance.
3. It's supportive. Bigots exist; ridiculing and calling them out tells people subject to bigotry that we support them.
4. It's a pressure release. The ability to ridicule bigots publicly reduces pressure to make the government regulate speech.
5. It's socially transformative. Ridiculing bigots causes people to rethink being bigots.
6. It's Darwinian. Twitter and Facebook, aided by Google, help those of us who hire employees distinguish between morons and people of normal intelligence.
1. It's disproportionate. Though Twitter is public, people don't expect their worst moments to be publicly searchable forever, which can have real-world impact like loss of jobs or relationships.
2. It's out of context. It's too often difficult to tell if something is satirical or tongue-in-cheek. [Edited to add: Patterico suggests, plausibly, "When something like this happens there is often at least one person mocking the bad guys who gets lumped in with them."]
3. It chills speech by subjecting it to nationwide attack.
4. It encourages "mob rule" by directing large numbers of people to attack someone for expression of opinion.
5. It's arbitrary, in that there is an inexhaustible supply of derpitude out there, and these people are having their derpitude irrationally singled out.
6. It doesn't contribute to a dialogue on the situation, only an attack.
7. It treats minors and adults equivalently, and unkindly preserves youthful idiocy.
8. It's fake outrage manipulated for pageviews.
My biases are these: I believe in, at least, Pro points 1 – 4. I think that Con points 2 – 6 ignore the question "compared to what" and are part of the fallacy of treating response speech different than initial speech.
What do you think?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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