aNewDomain — When ISIS throws gay people from the roof of tall buildings and the Taliban stone adulterers, we all are shocked. We dismiss these as cruel, inhumane and “barbaric” acts. But when Gawker outs gay married people and revenge-porn makers are finally unmasked the American populace sees only marginally deviant processes at work.
The recent hacking of Ashley Madison, the casual sex and cheating network whose tagline reads, “Life is short. Have an affair,” is the latest in public shame and outrage. As psychotherapist Bronk Hansen states:
It is not a fair fight, and yet it results in painful humiliation and real damage to a person’s reputation and image. Some victims have committed suicide, seeing no future for themselves in a world where devastating images can be published on the Internet forever by people they don’t even know. “
There is little hope that this trend can be controlled by any rational authority. No one can effectively act to stop public shaming.
The tribal behavior of these “moralizers” recalls an era of witch hunting, which operates by picking out select entities who deal with taboo subjects and forcefully outing them. The gap between the lightning-quick social media spread of news and the same old human nature seems to be growing together, and in a reckless way.
The Daily Beast asks: “When Did the Internet Turn Into the Monogamy Police?”
Ashley Madison has nearly 37 million users, and most risked their married lives when they joined the site. Now they are in further trouble as they are about to be “excommunicated” on the web.
I stray from moral judgments about individual’s actions. But to stone them in the town square is wrong. Those outed in this way are treated to the full force of Internet shaming. Digital stones can be deadly.
Do We Want a “Social Fear” Society?
The deeper ethical issue here goes far beyond the criminal hacking: Why are all the instigators and participants in these outing, shaming and revenge-oriented web activities doing it? The issues here are familiar to me (and probably you) via Gamergate. As I’ve written before:
Recent research has been profiling such haters and trolls. According to research, these individuals often display telltale sadistic motives and mindsets. You know the type. Everyone, Oscar candidate to teenager, has at some point encountered a troll.”
These new norms seem to be the product of a kind of pre-liberalism, pre-reason morality. The vengeance actions are centered around honor, face, name and important parts of public reputation. The goal here is the presentation and upkeep of individual pride, self-esteem and self-respect, through schadenfreude and the creation of social fear.
In essence, social media and new media outlets have helped to create web gangs. Take, for instance, the recent resignations of two Gawker editors who helped to publicly shame the CFO of Condè Nast.
With their approval and direction, a horde of hate was released by social trolls and hackers, who exist inside the Internet jungle. They seem to have roughly the same motivations as ancient tribal witch-hunters. Their vulgar, crude and rough moral code boils down to a simple statement: “We don’t take no shit from nobody.”
The reasons behind these actions, and which actions particularly, are still unclear.
But there are signs of change.
Reddit, which calls itself “the front page of the Internet” but in reality has been a haven for hate speech and revenge porn, is attempting to change. As reported by The Verge: “Reddit is slowly trying to clean up its worst communities and create better tools.”
That may be true, and it makes me wonder if the Internet is growing up. The public outcry and discussion over Gawker and Reddit is causing everyone to rethink guidelines, which is a start.
What will change the game? Will people ever, as a group, respond without hate to the actions of others?
For aNewDomain, I’m David Michaelis.
Images in order: Screenshot from Magic Mike XXL; Screenshot of Ashley Madison website; Public Stoning courtesy Women’s News Network