#58 – Notes on Shame and the Modern Pillory

Shaming is a form of social control. When a person violates the established norms of their community, the group may respond by condemning, avoiding and ostracizing the ‘guilty’ person.

In this edition of the Aidan Project, Aidan examines public shaming in 18C London – where the guilty were placed in the pillory and pelted with various objects, including dead cats – and compares this to social media shaming. Is the treatment meted out on Twitter in 2017 little better than a 1717 stint in the pillory? Why do people join in to attack people they barely know or, more importantly, why do people attack others for ‘offences’ that are often spurious, subjective or not even understood? Aidan looks at one of the most famous cases of social media shaming, the only positive aspect of which was that no dead cats were hurled at the offender. The inherent danger in assisting with frantic social media shaming is that of potentially trivialising something real or exaggerating something trivial. There are, of course, many reasons to be genuinely outraged; Aidan is arguing that by rising up to engage in purely-reactionary shaming, the sphere of honest public discourse is suffering as a result.

Bibliography [by appearance]

Robert Shoemaker, The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England, (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2004).

‘The price of public shaming in the Internet age’, CNN web site, 16 April 2015, http://www.edition.cnn.com/2015/04/16/living/feat-public-shaming-ronson/index.html

‘A Terrible Shame. Enforcing moral norms without the law is no way to create a virtuous society’, Slate web site, 9 April 2015, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2015/04/internet_shaming_the_legal_history_of_shame_and_its_costs_and_benefits.html

‘How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life’, New York Times web site, 12 February 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html