In no time at all, public shaming has gone from a cottage industry to a full-on post-industrial revolution business. From Hollywood to Bollywood, corporate America to Main Street anywhere, no one is safe from the wrath of social justice. Informed or otherwise. True, or catastrophically false. Or somewhere in between.
Last week, in Short Hills, two women interacted badly while shopping for underwear. Overnight, the story was international news. One of the women was branded a “Karen” and for the rest of her life, she will be judged by that moment. Every search for her will result in a mountain of information about her very bad day at the mall. Every aspect of her life will be picked over, commented on and judged.
This was not the promise of the Internet. We were supposed to be set free — but we’ve only freed mob rule. When something like this happens, people call me to help clean up the lifetime of destruction a moment in time can create. I’m just a digital marketing wonk who knows how the plumbing works. I could tell you some stories, but they all end the same way.
In one case I worked on, the accuser went to federal prison for fraud and the accusation itself from an accuser who had filed multiple frivolous civil lawsuits, was an obvious money grab, but that didn’t matter. His career and professional life were over because he was accused. And being accused is all that matters.
John Oliver famously told us that we are in the golden age of shaming while Dr. Jordan Peterson warned us of the epic manipulation potential that lies in abandoning the presumption of innocence. You can’t imagine the destructive toll this psychological warfare is taking on our society, yet we continue to sop it up with a biscuit.
A sure sign of the apocalypse is when Jordan Peterson and John Oliver simultaneously support the same position. With all the tremendous good that has come from powerful social movements, there are too many examples of manipulating the system for personal and financial gain.
The GoFundMe page the woman from underweargate put up has raised over $100,000 to hire an attorney. This has become an unfortunately formulaic approach to garnering fame and fortune. With a little help from massive social and traditional media coverage, almost any scandal can be a money machine.
In the more extreme accusations — usually involving race or gender — once the word is out, any company targeted can expect its employees to be doxed or otherwise harassed via professional profile and social sites. After a recent accusation, employees of one company got a message through LinkedIn letting them know they work for a bigoted company.
In the case of an individual, no one will hire you and every facet of your social profile like business reviews and professional profiles will be ravaged by the horde. Amazon product reviews, Google, Yelp local business listings and even Facebook profiles are all favorite targets. If you are well-known enough and deemed worthy, you might see your Wikipedia page get absolutely mullered. Worse, someone might create one in honor of your humiliation.
People have their lives ruined in an instant and the sum of their existence is boiled down to one bad moment. The punishment is not even in the same category as the crime. No one should be surprised in the least little bit that a person with a camera pointed at them instantly came unglued at the thought of an inevitable and brutal evisceration.
So how do we fix this broken machine we have created?
We begin by understanding who else gains from this patently destructive behavior, and the real culprits quickly become clear. The websites and the machine behind them facilitate demolition every day. When you click on “news” articles, you opt-in to being the soil amendment to massive content farms. Your presence, attention and personal information are being offered up to the highest bidder to become intellectual manure for generations to come.
We must expand the “right to be forgotten” to include and facilitate eliminating this sort of harassment. We need to hold people and social media and tabloid-type sites accountable for what they say and do to others.
We must stop granting ourselves emotional get-out-of-jail-free cards when it comes to forcing a fellow human being into mental torture. In Short Hills, like so many other places around the web, hate just got bolder, the certain media cashed in, and we haven’t moved the social-equity needle one iota.
Kevin Ryan is the founder of the digital marketing strategy firm, Motivity Marketing, Inc and the Republican candidate vying for the 27th Legislative District seat in the New Jersey General Assembly.
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