“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Andy Warhol once said in 1968. Indeed, the prophetic statement has made a lot of people either famous or notorious on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
A 5 year old girl, Lum Lum was tortured to death by her parents recently. This macabre incident triggered a massive search for the parents’ Facebook profiles and resulted in public denigration way before the trial commences.
In a matter of seconds, a picture of someone doing something out of the ordinary will be posted on some Facebook public groups or mainstream media. Keyboard warriors will then storm the comment thread with barrage of interminable snarks and cringes using their own moral judgments. The opinion from keyboard warriors is often swift and excoriating, with many commentators being quick to see the dystopian possibilities of a social media platform that grades you as a person without your consent. Luckily, the pernicious effect of social media is often short lived as in a relatively brief span of time, a more behemoth sacrilege of image will supersede the previous news. This inscrutable new found fame of the publicly shammed victim is so ephemeral that he or she may be incognizant of the online happenings. On the other hand, if you are a nobody and your friends stumbled upon your humiliating post on social media, the trivial and yet terrible event can be debilitating as it may haunt you psychologically for life.
“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, the Netflix series is set. In the previous instalment of the series, ‘Nosedive’ turned social platforms’ self-curation and validation-seeking into the backbone of a future society. In the episode, augmented reality and a single ubiquitous social-media platform let users rate all their online and in-person interactions on a five-star scale. Everyone in this brave new world walks around with a user-generated score glowing in front of their faces, and that score determines their value in society, their access to services, and their employability. The episode aims squarely at the anxiety stoked by a modern obsession with quantification. In that sense, “Nosedive” is both dystopian fiction and acute social satire of a city like Hong Kong.
Jeroen van den Heuvel, a reader of Dimsum Daily commented that Hong Kong’s local culture is heavily driven by social wealth status, out-dated superstitious mambo jambo and a society whom police each other so much that you are completely locked in a situation where anything “out of the norm” gets public online shaming.
Jon Ronson, a Welsh journalist and writer shared his insights on public shaming
A lot of shamings on social media are coming from a righteous place, and there’s a real irony. A lot of violence and harm comes from people’s belief that they’re doing something good.When you’re instantly condemning and judgmental, nothing happens because it just slams doors closed. All you do is make somebody’s life a misery and sometimes they deserve it and sometimes they don’t. It feels to me that we’re losing our capacity for curiosity and pity and compassion, and those are terrible things to lose.
When you look at who’s trending on a given day, you can pretty much rest assured that somebody’s trending either because they’re the most awesome hero ever or they’re the worst monster ever. In a weird way, he thinks these are two sides of the same coin. Because actual human beings are somewhere in the boring gray area between awesome and terrible. That gray area is where all the most interesting stuff happens, the most interesting nuances and so on, and nobody seems to be occupying that gray area anymore.
Mainstream media being the accomplice
The dominance of social media makes mainstream media even worse because the mainstream media just allows social media platform like Facebook to set the agenda and just goes along with it. Facebook fans decide that the acts of the parents of Lum Lum are inhumane , and so the mainstream media just goes along with it. When the power is coming from social media, the mainstream media is too afraid to speak truth to it. The mainstream media just goes along because it’s scared and insecure. If the media—or anyone—try to come to the parents’ defence, they would end up getting attacked themselves.
Journalism is in part to blame for this disjuncture for it sits at the head of the sluice of horrific social ills. For civilisation to proceed, we naturally need the answers to be a firm no in all cases. There is a serious task for the news here: The news we are introduced to should be framed in order to give us the maximum encouragement to practise NOT doing the devilish things that the more chaotic parts of us would – under extreme circumstances to be attracted to exploring. We may never actually abuse our children or kill our partner dead during a feud, but we are all at times, emotionally in space where these sorts of things can happen. Tragedies remind us how badly we need to keep controlling ourselves by showing us what happens when people don’t.
Kindness and compassion
A shaming campaign can be really, really powerful. There should be more willingness to pause before firing, to put ourselves in another’s shoes. What happens is, (the shaming) destroys a person’s life and livelihood, which is unjust. It is prejudicial to judge the couple who tortured and killed their daughter even if their acts were deemed evil, we should instead leave the noble task to a court of justice.
So, next time when you are tempted to annihilate a person in the comment thread, take a pause before we rip someone apart because kindness and compassion works better.
We know that this is a tough sell as outrage and demonisation can be more satisfying than compassion and empathy. However, it is imperative to do so because you will never know when you will be the next in line for the 15 minutes’ fame.