Shaming Animal ‘Abusers’ on the Internet – More Harm Than Good?
I am really glad there was no internet around when I was in high school and college. I’m pretty sure I did and said some pretty dopey things, as most people do on occasion, but they came and went, and I corrected them and went on to become, by most accounts, a normal responsible adult.
But things are different now, with camera phones in every pocket and the potential for the entire world to see your every move. Internet justice is swift for those who do wrong, and in some cases, it’s never ending. The internet is forever, after all.
The people being vilified are not innocent. They have done or said things that vary from offensive to mean to dangerous or just plain dumb, but once the image goes viral, it takes over that person’s life. The random strangers who pile on may be righteously angry, but in their thirst for vengeance many of them state quite clearly that they are happy for someone’s life to be ruined.
It’s hard not to be upset when you see some of the things out there —the endangered animals being hunted for sport, the crude and crass rants — and while I certainly understand the angry responses of the internet justice patrol, I do sometimes worry that pitchforks and torches have now become the default response to anything we don’t like.
On occasion, amidst the deliberately stupid and willfully cruel, you see someone who genuinely is acting out of ignorance. The cases I am thinking of most commonly involve a nervous-looking dog and a gurgling toddler sticking its face into the dog’s muzzle.
Perhaps there is an opportunity in there to help the person holding the camera — and others — to learn a really important lesson, but it’s going to get lost in the 5,000 iterations of “stupid,” “idiot,” “dum-dum” responses. Who wouldn’t shut down in the face of that?
This is exactly why the dogpile, public-shaming aspect of the internet worries me. Aside from fulfilling the commenter’s desire to be part of the response, I don’t think it’s especially constructive, and it causes some real missed opportunities to turn a poor choice into a proactive educational moment. In many cases, it has a ripple effect on the blameless co-workers, family members, and work life of the person involved. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and at the end of the day I really don’t find that it leaves the world a better place than it was before.
So that’s why you won’t find me on Facebook fanning the flames of righteous anger against the admittedly clueless general population. After all, it’s an election year; we have plenty of politicians — who actually like that kind of attention — to yell at and about instead.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang