Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Can social media shaming change behaviour, or is it just Schadenfreude?

I've written quite a bit about how shame is not an ideal motivator in social marketing. But there's another aspect to shame and attempts to influence behaviour that is vigilante — rather than institutional — in nature: public surveillance.

My Osocio colleague Claire shared a Tumblr called "I Hope Your Bag is Comfortable, Asshole" that attempts to shame Toronto public transit riders out of the cardinal sin of avoiding a seat mate on a  full bus or train by blocking the empty seat beside them with a bag.

It's an interesting strategy, although I'm not sure it will work. Not just because of legal and privacy concerns, but also because it seems more like revenge punishment than rehabilitation.

This is just one of many name-and-shame Tumblrs. Public Shaming documents awful Twitter reactions to the Steubenville rape case. Hello There, Racists! documents another type of hate.

But is taking pictures of people in public to shame them fair, or even legal?

It brings to mind the case of Adria Richards, the "Company Evangelist" for SendGrid who tweeted a photo of two men at a PyCon conference to out them for sexist public comments. Not only were they fired, but she was too. The company said in a release, "Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders – and bystanders – was not the appropriate way to handle the situation."

The big problem with photos, as opposed to Tweets, is that Twitter is a public medium. Information shared is deliberate, and the statement stands alone without need of context (or, if a response, is attached to the context.) A photo can tell a skewed story, because it lacks context.

The hope is that, to avoid being busted in this way by social media vigilantes, people will behave better in public. But is the answer to minor social ills really to be found in spying on each other?

1 comment:

  1. Social behavior goes back to the dawn of time, and its digitization is certainly important, but it's not as easy to manipulate as some marketers seem to think.